Can a Tree Be Planted Too Deep?

There are several factors you need to consider, and you need to plant the tree in a proper manner. Poor horticultural practices, such as a tree planted too deep, can often stunt growth and impact your tree’s health. So, yes, you can plant a tree too deep. And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than to witness a young tree decline rapidly just because it has been planted too deeply. The experts at Mr. Tree have put together this guide to help you understand how to plant a new tree at the right depth.

How Deep Should Trees Be Planted?

Most homeowners mistakenly assume that planting a tree is a straightforward process. As a result, a majority end up digging a hole that’s too deep and narrow. When a young tree is planted in such conditions, the roots don’t get sufficient oxygen for proper growth. Moreover, a narrow hole means a lack of adequate space for the roots to expand and anchor the tree. Also, remember that if you are replanting trees grown in a container, the roots are already used to proper soil depth. Anything deeper than that can make the tree weak and susceptible to a host of diseases.

As a good practice, when planting a new tree, don’t plant it any deeper than the soil in which it was initially growing. The width should be a minimum of three times the diameter of the roots when fully spread so that they can establish themselves firmly. Even a few inches of extra depth can make a massive difference in how the roots get air, water, and nutrients. The planting hole should be only deep enough to ensure that the root flare stays exposed just above the soil line. With time, the tree will settle in and even position itself a bit lower. The roots themselves should be buried in the soil. You should also pack the soil beneath the roots so they don’t sink into the ground and end up malformed.

In case you are buying balled-and-burlapped trees, make sure to get them from a quality nursery. Check if the root ball is big enough for the size of the tree you are looking for. Very often, nurseries end up digging out a small root ball to make more money, as it is easier to ship and transport more trees with a smaller root ball. A reputable nursery will conform to the industry standards and size the root ball correctly, which means it is appropriate for the thickness of the tree trunk.

How to Know If You Have Planted the Tree Too Deep?

A tree planted too deep can end up with various bacterial or fungal diseases and eventually die. Some of the common problems seen in trees that have been planted too deeply include:

  • Cankers and deep cracking of the bark
  • Yellowing of leaves
  • Bark splitting
  • Increased susceptibility to borers
  • Girdling roots
  • Late spring leaf emergence
  • Early fall coloration
  • Branch dieback

Unfortunately, the signs of your tree declining due to incorrect depth may take years to show up. Trees planted too deep may also find it challenging to survive the winter, as the damaged bark causes them to store insufficient food reserves. So it’s best to exercise caution right at the time of planting the tree so that you can avoid such issues.

Is It Possible to Correct Your Mistake If You Have Planted the Tree Too Deep?

If you fear that you have recently planted a young tree too deep, there’s still hope. You can transplant it, remove the excess soil and surface roots above the root flare (where the trunk starts to widen into the roots), and replant it. Make sure to plant the tree at least an inch or two higher than the surrounding grade to avoid covering the root flares.

If you have an established tree in your yard that has been planted too deep, the first step should be to remove the soil around the root flare to expose the collar. Next, excavate the soil as far away from the tree’s base as possible and get rid of any associated surface roots. You should also get rid of girdling or circling roots to avoid further issues. But approach this process with caution, as you may end up injuring the bark, leaving it vulnerable to contracting a host of infections.

Can I Add Mulch After Planting the Tree?

Adding a layer of mulch around the tree after planting is recommended. Mulch plays a vital role in protecting the tree, conserving moisture, and preventing weed growth. But you need to be careful about the quantity of mulch, as piling too much mulch around the root flare can damage the tree. A mulch volcano creates a moist environment, the perfect breeding ground for fungus and other pathogens to flourish. It could even attract rodents. It may also be difficult for water to penetrate the thick layer of mulch and reach the roots below.

Final Words

Even though anyone can plant a tree, not everyone knows the right way to plant it. A 2006 report suggests that 93 percent of professionally planted trees are often planted too deep. Among other things, being attentive to the depth when the tree is first planted ensures that you won’t have to dig it up and replant it again. Disturbing the roots of the tree repeatedly is highly disruptive to its health and growth.

Instead of taking the matter into your hands, call in the experts when planting a tree in Portland, Oregon. Experienced certified arborists such as Mr. Tree know how to properly expose the root flare so that your tree doesn’t just survive but thrives. We also provide a variety of residential services for your trees so your perfectly landscaped yard is your neighbor’s envy and your pride.

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