Trees with wet, loose root balls must be planted with care

Backyard Q&A

In the Garden

November 30, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I recently purchased three balled and burlapped trees at a local garden center. When they delivered the trees, the balls were wet and loose. I went ahead and planted the trees. Should I be concerned?

When purchasing trees, it is very important to examine the root balls that are supporting the trees. Trees with large, solid root balls are more likely to have strong, healthy roots than those with small, loose balls; and they are more likely to survive. Unfortunately, most consumers look only at the trunks and branches and then select the trees with the straightest trunks and most uniform tops. While these may appear to be the best trees, it is not always the case.

As you probably now know, trees with wet, loose balls are difficult to move and plant. They must be planted carefully and should be staked after planting. If the trees are not staked, they can easily get misaligned in the landscape. Your trees may have been dug when the fields were wet. Or they may have been mishandled during delivery. In either case, if the balls were of good size and you plan to take good care of them, I would not be overly concerned. In most cases, these trees survive.

I am planting a boxwood hedge. I know they are prone to soil disease, but they still seem to be the best hedge plant. What can I do to prevent the disease?

The only way to prevent or reduce the potential for soil disease is to improve the drainage of your soil. Soil diseases such as phytophthora root rot thrive in heavy, wet soils. The disease is most prevalent in low-lying areas and in clay soils. Prepare your soil well by adding ample amounts of organic matter. Leaf compost is best for breaking up clay. Another product that might work is pine fines. Pine fines are a very finely shredded pine bark product that can be found at good garden centers.

You must add a lot of compost to break up clay. After tilling the soil, I would spread a 3-inch layer of compost over the area, and then till it again to turn the compost into the clay. The area you prepare should be at least 3 feet wide.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic.


1. Putting your flower garden to bed for winter? Many plants appreciate a light covering of mulch to protect them for the winter, but do not overdo it. Use loose materials like straw and pine boughs.

2. Most types of holly have both male and female plants, and both are required for fertilization and fruit set. Buy about one male holly for every three females.

3. Houseplants rest during the winter too. Reduce watering and fertilizing to compensate for their slowed growth.

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