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Gardening Articles: Care :: Plant Care Techniques

Fall Tree Care (page 2 of 2)

by Bonnie Lee Appleton


My third "unplanting" recommendation is to unmulch. Don't remove all of the mulch, but if you or someone else has gotten overzealous, meaning there is a layer of mulch more than four inches thick against the trunk of any tree or shrub, pull some of it away.

A three- to four-inch mulch layer is usually fine, but mulch against the trunk encourages bark decay or disease or insect problems. Excessive mulch can also create a welcoming habitat for animals such as voles that might feed on the base of your plants.

While you're pulling the mulch at the base of your plants back, check to be sure that your trees and shrubs weren't planted too deeply. The trunk flare or root-stem transition area should be at the soil surface. If the tree is too deeply set and has been in place for just a short time -- three to six months -- dig it up and plant it less deeply. If that's not possible, remove soil from around the trunk base, gradually tapering back to grade.


Be especially sure that any root packaging or balling materials were removed at planting time. These include natural jute or synthetic burlaps, natural hemp or synthetic ropes, the tops of wire baskets, plastic sleeves, even plastic pots. It's amazing how many of these materials are left intact at transplant time, and how quickly they can limit root growth and plant establishment or cause stem girdling. Even the tops of "plantable" peat-paper-fiber pots should be broken away. Their slow rate of biodegradation often limits root development, and the fibers wick moisture away from the roots.

Dr. Bonnie Lee Appleton is a professor of horticulture at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg.

Photography by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association

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