Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2010
Regional Report

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This tree trunk is a straight as the two stakes - no flare is visible so the tree is planted too deeply.

Get to Know Your Root Flare

I know it's hot outside and the last thing you want to do is get out there to do some planting, but while you sit indoors in the cool air conditioning, look out the windows and make notes about what you want to do to your landscape when the weather cools.

Fall Planting
Fall is an excellent time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials because the soil is still warm for root establishment, the weather is cool to slow transpiration, and we usually have fairly abundant rains to help out. Many nurseries and garden centers discount their plants so they don't have to overwinter them, and you also get a much earlier start with the plants already in the ground when spring growing starts again.

Plant Trees Properly
I want to spread the word about the proper way to plant trees. I'm horrified at the number of trees that are planted too deeply. This stresses the plants and can eventually cause their death. Most important, it's a preventable problem. All it takes is a good look at the trunk to do it right.

What is a Root Flare?
Although I'm going to explain what a root flare is, all the words in the world are no good unless you have an image in your head. So, as soon as the mosquitoes abate, get out for a walk in the woods and look at those trees that were planted by nature. Look at the base of the plant, right where it enters the soil or slightly above, and you will see a flare.

Root Flare indicates Physiological Change
This flare is where the trunk makes a physiological change into root tissue. The roots take in water and nutrients that then moves up through the tree. Tissue in the trunk acts sort of like straws to move water and nutrients to the leaves where they convert them into food. Other trunk tissue then moves the food down to the rest of the tree.

Position the Root Flare Properly
That spot on the tree, the flare, is designed by nature to be above ground. Planting a tree deeply enough to bury this flare causes great stress on the tree. The roots are too far below the surface to get the oxygen they need to survive.

So, whether you are planting a balled-and-burlapped tree or a container-grown plant, take the extra time to look for that root flare. There may be a subtle change in color or texture of the bark. Old recommendations were always to plant a tree at the same level it was planted in the nursery, indicated by a soil line on the trunk. But nurseries don't always plant at the right level, so you need to take it upon yourself to find that flare and plant the tree with the flare right at or above soil level. Your tree will thank you!

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