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A longtime friend of the shop, Bob Miller, stopped by this weekend to show me which end of the shovel to use when planting trees. I’ve never had much success with things that grow in the yard and I loathe yardwork in general, but after the storm last week blew down the lone craptastic tree in my front lawn, I figured reinforcements were required.

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Enter two $3 Bald Cypress twigs with big-ass root stems that we managed to get packed into the holes and firmly rooted into the ground before storms set in this weekend. A SharpShooter (which runs about $30 and is uber-helpful for gigs like this) helped dig the hole and a little spade shovel removed dirt quickly. Both trees wound up looking great, if small, and after I learned how to mix top soil with native dirt and break up the clods for replanting, the whole experience went quickly for the second tree.

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It turns out this planting stuff isn’t so bad if the object in question is small enough.

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18 Responses to Planting Isn’t Evil After All

  1. Jim says:

    Post-hole digger works great for small holes. Not the twist type, but the two handle type can help in getting the dirt out of a small hole or just digging it after you use a regular shovel to remove the sod.

  2. shotdog says:

    Pull the mulch away from the stems a tad and be sure to water the equivalent of one inch a week. They need to spend the summer establishing a good root system. If you have a rodent problem, protect them with cylinders of hardware cloth until they’ve become established. sd

  3. Stu says:

    Wow, that actually looks like soil. I live in Central texas where we have… clay… lots and lots of clay. I once planted a 10 gal red maple and put 200 lbs of clay in the yard waste bin.

  4. Toolhearty says:

    Native dirt? …as opposed to immigrant dirt?

    It’s not dirt, it’s soil. (or so I’m told) :)

    Sean, you need to get a picture of yourself standing there, looking at the trees expectantly, whilst holding a hammock.

  5. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Toolhearty Heh, yeah, I’m kinda hopeless when it comes to gardening. Dirt, soil… it’s all about the same to me. But I’m learning….. slowly

  6. eriko says:

    Most soil in housing developments is really an engineered product meant for building houses on. It is not very conductive to growing trees as it very compacted (good for building on) and the roots take forever to dig through the soil. Someone did the research (can’t find it right now) that it takes decades for the soil to loosen back up and let the tree get healthy.
    It looks like that soil was pretty hard to dig through. Since those trees are now planted you might dig a couple holes a few inches a way and fill them with potting soil and water the empty holes to so that the roots grow that way.

  7. Toolhearty says:

    eriko Says:
    …Most soil in housing developments is really an engineered product meant for building houses on. It is not very conductive to growing trees as it very compacted (good for building on) and the roots take forever to dig through the soil…

    I can believe this. I live in an older part town where the homes are around 100 years old and so are the trees (which are really tall). Back then, they didn’t bother with trying to “prepare” the land before building. It was just too much work (the house foundations were dug out by ox-teams pulling a blade back and forth).

    On my way to work, I go through a subdivision that was established sometime in the 70s and I assume the majority of trees were planted around the same time. None of the trees are over 25′.

    I remember reading an article somewhere where some guy said “Yeah, those trees may never get very tall. The builders bring in scrapers, remove the topsoil, compact the underlying soil, then after they’re done they put back maybe a foot of topsoil. The tree roots have no where to go.”

  8. eriko says:

    I tried to find that article to link to. Basically that is what I was saying. Got to give the roots somewhere to go and something good to eat.

  9. jeff_williams says:

    Up here in the north, our top 4′ of soil gets loosened every winter provided it doesn’t snow too early and the frost runs deep.

  10. metis says:

    it’s not that they intentionally compact the soil, it’s that they don’t care. buying a home in a development *unless you get in early and specify out the wazoo* is a sure fire way to have a bucket of bizarre issues down the line. driving over the topsoil is a mess, so they scrape it off. this also gives them a better understanding of drainage patterns and they can put in systems to create “ponds” of over fertilized runoff. this all but guarantees that you’ve got ~3″ of topsoil that came with the sod dropped off the back of a truck, and have a devil of a time getting any plants to really establish. developments are not quality craftsmanship, they’re assembly line trash. you *can* get some nicer tools at harbor freight, but if you want an heirloom, you go somewhere that cares about it’s product.

    i’ve dealt with projects where the lot owner stated that the original topsoil had to be left in place, and any driving on it had to happen on the “driveway” area, and otherwise could only be light duty with 1″ ply or greater weight distribution for the vehicle. they paid a few K extra up front, but 3 years on, they had trees. they also had a varied 8~24″ rise on their lot vs the neighbors.

    the excavators didn’t really care, they just drove on and off in one spot, and it meant that the framers just left the heavy stuff parked in the eventual garage. the big “no-no” was dropping detritus around the lot assuming it’d be covered by the sod guys.

  11. Note from editor: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the second most common definition of “dirt” (n) is “loose soil or earth.” So it works for me. :)

  12. Also –

    >>Native dirt? …as opposed to immigrant dirt?

    If you buy it sealed in a bag and import it into the native ecosystem of your yard, it is indeed immigrant dirt, or at least implies a difference between purchased soil and the soil that is native to your own yard.

    I had no issues with the way it was phrased!

  13. Toolhearty says:

    Audra Heaslip Says:
    Note from editor: According to the Oxford English Dictionary…

    As the old saw goes: “Dirt is what you track into the house on your shoes. Soil is what you grow crops in.

    (…stupid OED…) :)

  14. @Toolhearty:

    On my way to work, I go through a subdivision that was established sometime in the 70s and I assume the majority of trees were planted around the same time. None of the trees are over 25′.

    What kind of tress are they? I’ve noticed in newer subdivisions around here that they plant ornamental trees that don’t get that big.

  15. Toolhearty says:

    Benjamen Johnson Says:
    @Toolhearty:
    What kind of tress are they? I’ve noticed in newer subdivisions around here that they plant ornamental trees that don’t get that big.

    Various kinds of shade trees that one would expect to get a foot or two of growth per year. I wasn’t talking about the ornamentals.

    Why would they plant mostly ornamentals? I have a couple, but I love my humongous ash trees (I just pray they don’t fall victim to the Emerald Ash Borer). Big ol’ shade trees keep the house a lot cooler in summer, then drop their leaves in the fall so that one can take advantage of what meager amount of sun there is in the winter to help heat the house (I’ve got a corner lot with a southern exposure).

  16. Austin says:

    That’s why they to say to dig a hole about 3x wider than the root ball and amend the soil with compost or topsoil and starter fertilizer. Then again – you are in a kinder climate where your trees probably won’t have the same winter stress.

  17. Dr Bob says:

    Have to say I’ve never seen anyone dig a square hole to plant a tree or bush as seen in the top photo.

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