Protecting Tree Roots

When you bring a new tree home from the nursery to plant in your landscape, you probably imagine that you need to plant it nice and deep so that the roots have plenty of room to grow. In fact, our research at the Clemson University Department of Horticulture, shows that you couldn’t be more wrong.

I’m Christina Wells and behind me are my research plots at the South Carolina Botanical Garden where we have shown that cherries and maples, planted as little as 6 inches too deep in the landscape, have extremely poor survival rates and in some cases can develop girdling root problems that will kill them 10 to 15 years in the future. What you need to do when you bring a new tree home is to first identify the root flare. That’s the place where major, woody, structural roots emerge from the trunk. That root flare needs to be located right at the top of the soil line. You may need to scoop down 4 or 5 inches of soil to identify it.

Once you’ve found the root flare, dig your root hole so that it’s just the same distance as the depth of the new root ball. Place that new root flare at grade.

Then give your tree a nice mulch ring at least 3 feet from the trunk and keep an eye on the water levels. That should allow your tree to perform properly in the landscape.

If you’d like more information download the flyer How to Plant a Tree.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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