"Whoever plants a tree plants a hope." -- Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree

Tips on Planting and Maintenance of Pine Trees

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Pinus edulis -- Pearson Creek

Pinus sabiniana -- Pearson Creek

  1. Site Preparation
    1. Remove grass and weeds. The generally best method is a preliminary spraying with a root-killing herbicide such as Glyphosate (Roundup, Rascal, Tumbleweed) followed a week or more later by mechanical removal.
    2. Loosen the soil by spading or tilling.
    3. Ascertain adequate drainage. If in doubt, fill a test hole with water about one foot deep -- it should drain easily within 12 hours. If drainage is inadequate, install land drains if feasable. Otherwise consider another site or select a species that tolerates wet soil, e.g. P. serotina or palustris.
    4. Consider soil amendments only in extremely bad soils, such as adding milled sphagnum or other organic matter to heavy clay loam soils. Do not add fertilizers.

  2. Handling the Seedlings
    1. Bareroot seedlings: Plant only in the dormant season (e.g. November or March/April). Keep the roots damp, not immersed in water. If a well developed root system (as with some transplants) exists, then carefully arrange the root, separating major branches with loose soil.
    2. Biodegradable container-grown seedlings: Can be planted during the growing season, but best to avoid July/August unless extra shade and water will be provided. Plant either in the container or, somewhat better, gingerly remove the container and carefully cover the exposed soil-root mass with loose soil.
    3. Pot-grown seedlings: Can be planted during the growing season if adequate water. Check the roots to see if they are pot bound, i.e. with roots circling around the inside of the container. If so, straighten the circling roots and stretch them out into extensions added (dug) to the main hole. Or carefully make incisions into or attempt to untangle a densely tangled root ball.
    4. Burlap-balled trees: Can be planted during the growing season if adequate water. Burlap may be left around the root ball but, if manageable, the tree will usually get a faster start at root growth if the burlap is carefully removed.

  3. Planting
    1. Dig the hole larger than the root mass and then refill the bottom of the hole with top soil (so that there is about a few inches of top soil under the root ball in the case of burlap-balled trees, less with smaller seedlings). Fill the hole, the best (top) soil going in closest to the roots. Planting depth should be nearly the same as the nursery planting depth, but sometimes, as in very wet sites an inch or so higher than the nursery level. Never deeper than the nursery or pot level -- it is better to plant too high than too low. A mildly concave final planting site may facilitate the collection of water runoff and is indicated if adequate water is a concern; otherwise the planting site should end up flat or somewhat convex to allow for further settling. Tamp the soil with a shovel handle or similar (1 -2" diameter) rod gently and repeatedly as filling progresses. Don't stomp with your feet. Heavy &/or wet soils will need less tamping.
    2. Stake if necessary to maintain the tree in a stable upright position. Common sense will tell you. Most pine seedlings do not require this support.

  4. Maintenance
    1. Mulch: The best (cheapest, most available, most effective) mulch is wood chips which can be obtained from tree trimmers in your area. Ask if they have been trimming black walnut trees -- you don't want those chips due to the (jugulan) inhibitor. Leaves (they tend to blow away) and store-bought mulches are second best but can be very satisfactory. Mulch abundantly; it helps with weed control and water evaporative loss. Mulch repeatedly.
    2. Sun screen: Baby pine trees, like other babies, are susceptible to sunburn and dehydration. Even the most xerophyllic desert species of pines appreciate afternoon shade when the they are seedlings. The best (easiest and most durable) way is to erect a sunscreen in the form of painted (lasts longer) 2' x 3' plywood on the west side of the tree so that it is in the shade by 2 -4 p.m. Other methods, such as cheeze-cloth or other screens are much less practical. Afternoon shade can also be accomplished by site selection (in the shade of a larger tree or building).
    3. Water: Obviously the need to water depends on multiple factors such as the weather, soil, shade, mulch. Use common sense. Test the soil around the tree for wetness and act accordingly.
    4. Protection from animals: The simple sun screen described above is surprisingly effective in discouraging rabbits and deer, but sometimes more drastic measures such as chicken-wire enclosures or plastic tube shelters are needed. Repellent sprays (the best is probably the ammonium fatty acid type) can help but there is no smell that can stop a hungry deer. Irish Spring soap is ridiculously expensive for washing AND for hanging on trees as a repellent.
    5. Pruning: Occasionally you will need to assist a pine tree in selecting a new leader when two or more exist. Also pruning may be necessary to clear the interior tangle of branches of pine trees which have been sheared (best is to never buy such a tree) or to raise the branch level when a clear basal trunk is desired for esthetic or ventilation (helps control some types of needlecast) reasons. Pruning of dead branches probably helps ventilation and is esthetically satisfying. In most cases we also do routine under-pruning each winter to keep the foliage well away from the ground (helps with chemical weed control, needlecast disease and fire resistance).

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