Time for new trees and patio plantings

Many trees are transplanted too deeply.

To determine the proper planting depth for your new tree, locate the trunk flare - the place where the trunk widens at ground level. If the trunk flare is not showing, open the burlap to find the flare. Plant the tree higher in the hole and very carefully remove the excess soil above the roots to expose the flare.

When shaving off the excess soil with a sharp, flat spade, push the spade toward the trunk to minimize the chance of breaking the root ball. Generally, planting 2 to 3 inches higher than ground level is a good idea in heavy clay soils. It is best not to amend the backfill going back in the planting hole, but it is OK to amend the soil at the surface around the tree.

• Plants that have been grown in containers should be moist when planted in your garden. When you remove the plant and its root ball from the container, spread out or cut all the roots that have encircled the root ball. These roots have grown in a circle inside the container and could eventually girdle or choke the plant if not redirected to grow out and away from the plant. This will help the new plant get established in the ground more quickly.

Monitor watering needs carefully after planting, as the lightweight container soil can dry out quickly and stress the plants. Generally, containerized plants need more frequent, but light, watering to get them established with roots growing out into the garden soil.

• The pots and containers you use for seasonal plantings should have at least one bottom hole for drainage. A layer of gravel in the bottom of the container is not necessary.

Fill the container with a lightweight, fast-draining soilless mix - avoid heavy garden soil. Leave enough space between the top of the growing medium and the pot to make watering easy.

Very large containers can be partially filled with wood chips or empty plastic pots to conserve soilless mix. Separate the wood chips from the growing mix with landscape fabric.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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