Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

How to plant a tree

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And help grow an urban forest


Loosely tying a tree to stakes lets it wave in the wind and strengthens its roots.

Loosely tying a tree to stakes lets it wave in the wind and strengthens its roots. Photo by Michael Douglas/City of Vancouver

“Planting a tree is not hard,” says tree expert David Tracey. “Nature does it all the time.”

We just have to do what nature does.

Still, the dozen neighbours who’d come out to Slocan Park this chilly morning, with rain clouds overhead, learned many new tree-planting tips, like the proper posture to dig and an easy way to check how well your soil drains.

Most of us were picking up a tree we’d ordered through the Treekeepers program, which “helps Vancouver residents plant and tend the urban forest in the world’s greenest city.” By becoming a treekeeper, we have our tree monitored by volunteer citizen foresters.

What to watch for
Welcoming our questions throughout the hands-on lesson, Tracey gave easy-to-understand instructions with good humour and contagious enthusiasm.

David Tracey knows a thing or two about trees. He is the executive director of TreeCity, a certified arborist and the author of Guerrilla Gardening: A Manualfesto and Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution.

The biggest problem is people plant too deep, he notes.

You need to plant above the graft line, he says, pointing to the bottom of the trunk where it bulges. If there is soil covering the graft line, roots will sprout from the rootstock tree, not the tree you want.

It’s most important to check the roots. Make sure the roots have not wound around the inside of the pot, called girdling. Girdled roots can continue to grow in a circle and choke the tree of air and water.

Steps to plant a tree

  1. Choose a location that gets lots of sun, has well-draining soil and has lots of space for the tree to grow
  2. Dig a hole three times the width of the pot that the tree comes in. Rough up the edges of the hole so that roots can reach into them
  3. Check the roots for girdling
  4. Make sure the hole is not too deep. An easy way to do this is to place the shovel handle horizontally across the hole. Sit the tree in the hole so that the graft line is level with the shovel handle. If too deep, add more soil then line up the tree again
  5. Tamp down the soil to make sure the tree doesn’t settle. Check again that the tree is not too deep
  6. Cover the roots with soil
  7. Water well
  8. Hammer in one or two stakes and loosely attach the tree to them with soft ties that will not cut into the trunk
  9. Until the tree is established, water twice a week and more often in hot weather
  10. Enjoy your tree for years to come

Near the end of our lesson, a light rain started. Perfect. Us neighbours happily carried our prized tree home and couldn’t wait to get planting.

See Treekeeper’s video, How to Plant a Tree, featuring David Tracey.

Julie Cheng is a registered treekeeper of a young plum tree, an accidental gardener and a compulsive moss puller who starts her day picking slugs off her peas and lettuce. In her spare time, she pulls invasive plants out of the Renfrew Ravine and edits the Renfrew-Collingwood Community News.

Treekeepers, a partnership between TreeCity, the Environmental Youth Alliance, the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Foundation, supports Vancouver’s Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

Copyright (c) 2013 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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