Perennial Gardens

Planting Instructions

Planting a Balled & Burlapped Tree

  1. First call to locate underground utilities. Iowa One Call:  800-292-8989.Tree drawing with notations

  2. Prepare the site by excavating a hole that is 2-3 times the width of the ball, and is a depth of the crown of the trunk, or root flair.  Adjust depth according to soil type:  High for clay soils.  Do not dig deeper to try to amend the soils, especially with trees.  This will stunt growth, and can lead to poor health.

  3. Set the BB tree in the hole and double check for correct depth.  Then, cut 1/3 of the wire basket off of the ball.  Then remove twine & as much of the burlap as possible, being careful not to break up the soil ball.  Backfill with native soil that was just excavated.  Spread a 2-3” layer of organic mulch around the tree, careful not to mound mulch up against the trunk.  A desirable mulch area would be 5-6’ in diameter. 

Hose on mulchWatering

  • Established woody plant material needs 1" of water each week if it has not rained sufficiently. One slow, deep, watering will cause the roots to go deeper into the soil and, therefore, increase survival.

  • Plant material may need additional water if the weather has been hot and/or windy. However, if the weather has been humid, no water may be needed because of the high moisture content of the air.

  • As it gets colder, reduce the amount of water your plants receive as they will require less. It is always best to check how moist the root ball is before watering to avoid over-watering.  Signs of over watering and under watering are similar. Check the moistness of the root ball at a depth of 1" to determine if watering is required.

  • Plant material should be watered in the morning and always watered at the base of the plant. Avoid getting water on the foliage to prevent disease.


  • Staking is usually not required or recommended. Windy or sandy sites are the exception.  Stakes can often be removed after one year.

  • Plant material should be staked at right angles to the most critical wind direction.

  • Use arbor tape to secure the tree making sure that the tree is not inhibited from moving.  Staking lower on the tree is preferable because the greatest stresses occur when the staking height is above 2/3 the height of the tree.  Check often to see if the arbor tape is too tight. If left unchecked, the tree could be girdled leaving the tree unable to receive water or nutrients.


  • Natural mulch (wood chips, shredded bark) is ideal for all locations. Natural mulch will retain soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, return organic matter to the soil and reduce weed and grass competition.

  • A mulch depth of 2" to 4" is ideal, but it should be kept away from the trunks and stems of plants.

Fertilizers & Herbicides

  • Apply pre-emergent herbicide to clean, weed free beds after perennials emerge.  Always apply according to label directions.  Reapply as needed and as allowed by label.

  • Fertilizer is not typically needed for trees and shrubs unless it is to prevent deficiencies in the soil.  Fertilizer cannot counteract stress from too little water, sunlight or other growth factors.

  • Do not fertilize new trees and shrubs during the establishment time period.

  • Fertilizer may be applied in late summer or early fall or in spring after full leaf expansion. 


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