The Q&A Archives: Planting a dogwood and pine tree

Question: Today I was given a dogwood and pine tree bare root trees. The dogwood measures 17 inches and the pine measures 12 inches. The instruction state: find a partially shady spot in yard; recommend planting in a pot for the first year; dig the pot partway into the ground and mulch well; water as needed throught the spring, summer and fall; in the early fall or next spring your can plant the tree in the final location in your yard, and you should tranfer the tree to a bigtger pot if you dont's platn in the ground. I have never planted a tree before and everything I read on the websites is to plant in the ground and not a pot. Were the instruction I was given for the plant correct and if not please tell me what to do.


Answer: If you wish, follow the instructions that came with the plants, and then plant them in the fall. The reason for the container phase is to encourage the plant to develop additional roots during the growing season. It may also be because the failure rate with these little trees can be high and this avoids people scarring their lawn and having no tree. And since they should be planted ASAP, this gives you time to think about where to put them permanently.

However, if it belonged to me I would probably plant in the ground just as any bare root plant in its permanent location and then take very good care of it. One of the other reasons they might suggest this procedure is that the trees are very small and easily overlooked when planted in the ground -- this means the baby tree tends to get stepped on or run over with the lawn mower unless you put a very visible fence around it. They are also difficult to transplant once planted in the ground, and many people would not want to wait that long for a visible tree in that spot.

To plant as bare root plants, select a location in morning sun or very bright dappled light for the dogwood tree (I assume it is the native Cornus florida) allowing for its mature size of maybe 25 feet high and wide (or more). It should have evenly moist but well drained soil meaning do not plant it in a soggy low spot or on a very dry slope. An organic humusy acidic soil is best but average soil will do. Loosen the soil over a wide area about ten inches deep, placing the sod upside down in the bottom of the hole. Return all of the soil to the hole. Now scoop out a hole to fit the roots of the tree. Make a wide based cone of soil in the center and drape the roots over it. Do this so that the tree sits in the hole at the same depth as it originally grew or a little bit higher. It is very important not to plant it too deeply. Firm the soil around the roots and water well to settle the soil. Mulch wiht several inches of organic mulch in a flat layer over the planting area. Keep it several inches away from the stem of the tree.

Now water as needed to keep the soil evenly moist but not sopping wet -- up until it freezes next fall. To know if you need to water, dig into the soil with your finger and see. If it is damp, do not water yet. When you water, water less often but let it soak down deep, do not just sprinkle lightly every day. After watering, wait a few hours and then dig down and see how far it soaked in, this can be surprising.

The pine would be treated the same way but needs a bare minimum of six hours a day of direct morning and/or afternoon sun including the hour of noon; all day sun is better. Whichever route you go, soak the roots in water prior to planting and plant them as soon as possible so they can come out of dormancy gradually with the season. You do not want them to leaf out prior to being planted. Good luck wiht your trees!

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