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Here’s the right way to plant a tree or shrub

Aim: Today I will teach you the basic method of how to dig a hole and plant a tree or shrub. Follow these five easy steps and you will have beautiful trees and shrubs in your garden.

1: The siteImage 1  The Site

Choosing a site can be tricky. The site I have chosen gets about two hours of morning shade, seven hours sun and about three hours of semi-sun/shade.

Next you will need the correct tools and clothing, such as a spade, gardening gloves, hat and sunscreen. (You may need a pick or even a small hand axe if you come across any large roots of other trees.)

Type of plant: Walnut tree (Juglans regia)

Extras you will need: Compost, hose pipe or a watering can

2: What is the correct hole shape to dig?Image 2  What is the correct hole shape to dig

Square or round?

You will see two shapes of holes on the image: Digging a round hole is incorrect as the roots of the newly planted tree or shrub will follow the shape of the hole and will become root-bound. You will often see that plants that come out of round pots or plastic planter bags will be root-bound.

The correct hole shape to dig is square, as the roots find the corners and push outwards. I usually dig two or three times the size of the root ball (size of hole). This promotes maximum growth, and as a case in point I have seen some slow-growing trees grow between 1.5m to 2m where they usually grow 30cm annually. Big holes mean lots of compost!

3: How deep should I dig the hole?Image 3 How deep to dig a hole

I usually use a spade to measure the depth by standing the spade alongside the plant pot or bag to be planted. To ensure that the Walnut tree and all other plants that I plant get off to a great start, I dig the hole about 15cm deeper than that of the spade’s measurement.

4: PlantingImage 4 Planting

I take two spades of compost and put the compost into the bottom of the hole. I then take the Walnut tree out of its pot and you will notice that this tree remains the same shape of the pot (it is slightly root-bound).

I then place the Walnut tree into the ground, ensure that the point of where the stem/trunk becomes roots is at the same level as the ground. If it is planted too high the roots will be exposed and the tree will be more susceptible to disease and infection. The same goes for if the tree is planted too deep – the soil builds up on the stem/trunk which will begin to rot and the tree’s leaves will usually turn yellow and start to fall off.

  • Please note the above point goes for most plants.
  • Also turn the tree around so that the nice side faces your patio or kitchen window.

5: Planting, staking and wateringImage 5  Planting staking and watering

The Walnut tree is being planted and compost has been put around the tree’s roots – it is good to use your feet to stamp the ground.

I then add about two to three spades of soil that was originally dug from the hole. I then stamp down that soil too. After this I add the rest of the compost and stamp it down slightly. Ensure that the soil/compost does not cover the stem/trunk.

It is recommended to stake the tree as this will help support it while it grows. About a year or two after planting the stake can be removed.

I recommend watering the newly planted tree two to three times a week if planted in a full sun area; in a shaded area I suggest only one to two times a week.

Time spent: A large tree, depending on the soil, can take up to one to two hours to plant. Planting this Walnut tree took one hour.

Feeling: Satisfied and excited!

Happy gardening! Nick


Who is Nicholas Spargo?

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants.

Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.

Landscaping and education are very close to his heart.






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