Now that you've stored your holiday decorations for another year, it's time to turn your attention to the balled-and-burlapped evergreen that graced your home or landscape for Christmas. It should be planted this weekend before severe weather continues.
If you've already dug the hole for the tree, lay down a four- or five-inch layer of sharp sand, otherwise known as builder's sand or washed sand, in the hole. The sand should be available in garden shops or hardware and building supply centers. Atop this layer, mix equal amounts of sharp sand and peat humus as your basic soil. Fill the hole two-thirds, then add water to settle the soil.
Next, move the balled tree into the hole and check its position. The top of the ball should be level with the top inch of the surrounding soil and no deeper; add or remove soil from the hole to position the ball properly, making sure the trunk is perfectly vertical, too. At this point, cut all cords holding the burlap in place as well as any cord tied around the main trunk of the tree.
Backfill around the ball with the same sharp sand and peat humus mixture, filling it to the top. Flood the hole with two or three gallons of water to settle the soil, then backfill with more soil to level the hole.
The following week, add two gallons of water to the top of the soil each day. When you stop watering a week after planting, cover the soil with four or five inches of mulch to keep the soil frozen all winter.
If you haven't dug a hole, you still have to plant the tree this weekend, even if it's not going in the ground. In this case, you need to mound soil around the rootball and freeze the tree in place for the winter.
First, pick a spot in full sun where no water will collect over the winter. Make a small square of concrete or cinder blocks. Lay down a square three blocks by three blocks, then a second and third row of blocks over the base. Inside, put a four- or five-inch layer of sharp sand over the existing soil, then put your balled tree on top of the sand. Fill in around the ball with your 50-50 mix of sharp sand and peat humus so that all sides of the rootball are filled with the mix. Add an inch of the same mix over the top of the ball, then a three- or four-inch layer of shredded or hardwood mulch. Apply two gallons of water over the mulch every day for a week after planting, after which the tree is on its own. Plan on moving the tree to a permanent location in March.
Some homeowners need to be concerned about the winter survival of their trees and shrubs, especially trees weakened by disease and insect attacks in the summer. Trees not watered through the fall may experience some dieback during the next three months; trees soaked often in October and November should survive the winter.
Snow and ice will also exact a toll, especially on twiggy branches of young trees that crack under the weight of wet snow. Such disfigured trees are spring candidates for the chain saw because they blight the landscape. You may want to cover such young trees with a netting material available at the garden shop to reduce chances of snow damage.
The most destructive winter force is ice, particularly when temperatures drop below freezing during a light rain. Even a thin coating of ice can crack twigs and thin limbs; and trunks of young trees can be bent by ice on the upper branches.
Ice can destroy young and mature trees alike, but those most often victimized are aspen, butternut, chestnut, cottonwood, American elm, hackberry, silver maple, oak, tulip poplar and willow. Trees unlikely to be damaged by ice are apple, arborvitae, dogwood, Douglas fir, hemlock, hickory, honey locust, sugar and Norway maple, persimmon, Austrian pine, Norway and red spruce and black walnut. You can reduce the chance of ice and snow damage to young trees by putting protective netting on them.
When you remove snow from tree limbs, use a kitchen broom and sweep upward to lift snow away. But leave ice alone; efforts to remove it invariably inflict more damage to the limb than the ice will. If limbs are disfigured by ice, tie them up afterward by driving a wooden stake into the soil on the opposite side and tie the limb to relieve the stress.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500 AM).