Publication gets to root of tree planting problems, practices

September 26, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Spring is planting season but not necessarily the only season when it comes to trees. Many species survive better when planted in the fall, a Purdue Extension urban forestry specialist says.

"Some of our favorite landscape trees such as lindens, sycamores, honeylocusts and crabapples do quite well when planted in the fall, with proper care," Lindsey Purcell said.

A new Purdue Extension publication written by Purcell provides everything homeowners and arborists need to know about tree planting, regardless the season. Tree Installation: Process and Practices is available free online through Purdue Extension's The Education Store at

For a newly planted tree to survive its first winter, it needs to establish a root system capable of supporting its canopy, Purcell said. Tree species that are slower to establish roots, such as magnolia, dogwood, black gum, bald cypress and several types of oak, can experience winter damage.

Water is a must for a young tree as it prepares for the winter. Each week a tree requires about 5 gallons of water plus another 5 gallons for each inch of its trunk diameter. Thus, a tree with a trunk 3 inches in diameter needs 20 gallons of water a week, or what is equal to about 1 inch of rain.

Tree owners should keep good records of watering and the weather, and regularly check soil moisture underneath mulched areas to make sure trees are properly hydrated.

Trees not only take in water but also release moisture into the atmosphere through transpiration. For evergreen species, winter transpiration can cause trees to dry out. Purcell recommends evergreen tree owners apply an antitranspirant before cold weather sets in.

"What it does, it puts a protective coating or barrier on the leaves so that the wind doesn't dry out the needles and cause the tree to desiccate," Purcell said. "For evergreen species, antitranspirants can help with the establishment phase of tree growth."

Tree Installation: Process and Practices covers planting from start to finish, including sections on selecting the right tree, planting location, irrigation and maintenance. The eight-page guide also contains the "Proper Tree Planting -- The 12-Step Process" check list, utility-friendly and Indiana native tree lists, tree planting detail and Midwest hardiness zones graphics, and numerous photographs.

"This publication is not just about how to plant a tree but also the thought process that goes into choosing and placement of that tree," Purcell said. "Digging a hole and putting the tree in it is just one small part of the process. We want to reap the benefits of that tree for 50, 100, 300 years down the road, so it is critical to plan for that planting."

Before writing the publication, Purcell consulted with homeowners, foresters and municipal planners.

There's a little bit for everyone in this publication," he said. "It's not just for homeowners."

Writer: Steve Leer, 765-494-8415,

Source: Lindsey Purcell, 765-494-3625,

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson,
Agriculture News Page

Related website:
Purdue Department of Forestry & Natural Resources