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How to Plant a Ball & Burlap Tree

Trees are a valuable addition to the home landscape. In addition to their visual appeal, trees provide shade on hot days, act as a windbreak, and serve as habitat for birds and wildlife. While many commercially grown trees are started in containers, ball and burlap trees are grown in the ground. When a ball and burlap tree is ready for transplant, the tree is dug up and the roots are wrapped in burlap. Ball and burlap trees can be planted any time between early spring and fall.

Select a site for the tree. Make sure there is plenty of room to accommodate the tree at maturity, and that there are no overhead power lines. Avoid planting the tree too near building foundations and sidewalks. Check the soil drainage before planting the tree: Dig a hole 18 inches deep and fill the hole with water. If the water hasn't completely drained in 24 hours, choose a better spot.

Dig a hole no deeper than the height of the tree's root ball but at least three times as wide.The crown of the tree, where the trunk meets the roots, should be slightly above the surface of the soil. If the ground soil is compacted, break up the sides of the hole with a shovel or rake so the roots can penetrate the walls of the hole.

Cut off any wire or metal tags from the transplant tree, then lower the tree carefully into the hole. Avoid handling the trunk. Instead, slide the tree into the hole by holding onto the burlap or twine.

Remove the twine from around the burlap, as the twine will damage the tree as it grows. Fold the top 1/3 of the burlap down or cut it off. Burlap that pokes above the soil after the tree is planted will wick water away from the roots.

Backfill the hole with reserved soil until the hole is 1/3 full, then fill the hole with water. Allow the water to settle. Add more soil until the hole is 2/3 full, then add water again. Finish filling the hole with soil, and water again. If necessary, add more soil to replace soil that has settled.

Spread 3 to 4 inches of compost or organic mulch around the trunk of the tree, and work the compost lightly into the top inch of soil. Leave 10 to 12 inches of bare ground immediately around the trunk uncovered to discourage pests and rodents.

Drill four 1/8-inch holes in the sides of a 5-gallon bucket, near the bottom. Fill the bucket with water and place the bucket near the tree, and allow the water to trickle slowly. Repeat twice a week, increasing to three times a week during hot, dry weather. After the first year, water the tree only during warm, dry weather.


If the root ball of the tree is wrapped in synthetic burlap, the synthetic burlap must be completely removed before planting the tree. Treated burlap, which will usually be a bright orange color, also must be removed.

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