Curtis Swift

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October 4, 2012
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SWIFT: Take special care when planting trees

If you can't find the tree you want at the Master Gardener Tree Auction at the Mesa County Fairgrounds Saturday, Oct. 6, you might want to visit one of the local nurseries. Valley Grown Nursery still has an amazing number of trees left on their lot. They grow their own trees on their 150-acre tree farm and should have what you want and need for your landscape project.

While they have many trees at their Grand Junction location, they have acres more in Mack. If you don't find what you want at their in-town location or at another nursery, you might decide to visit the farm to select a tree from their tremendous selection. Not all 150 acres at the Mack site are being used for trees but many of those acres are in trees. Check with the staff at Valley Grown Nursery at 680 24 1/2 Road to make an appointment to visit the farm to select your trees. You can also make an appointment to go to the farm by call them at 970-245-2634. They have a tremendous selection of ornamental and shade trees. They will dig and deliver the trees you want and plant them for you.

Don't forget to buy shrubs to complement your new trees or to replace plants lost due to our wicked summer. Valley Grown Nursery grows their own shrubs and you can find many different shrubs in one and five gallon containers.

Fall-planted trees and shrubs need to be watered in as soon as they are planted and watered again going into the winter to ensure sufficient soil moisture is available for the plant's use during the winter. If we have a very dry winter, supplemental watering is strongly recommended. A five-gallon bucket of water per tree applied when the air temperature is above freezing and early enough in the day so the water soaks in before nightfall is recommended once a month during the winter.

Mulching trees and shrubs with a couple inches of bark or wood chip mulch after the tree is watered in after planting is another step you should not overlook. Mulch helps keep the soil warm allowing the roots to continue to develop into the fall and winter months. Tree and shrub roots stop developing when the soil temperature drops to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In Grand Junction that critical temperature typically occurs about Nov. 22. By mulching you can delay that date, giving the tree or shrub more time to develop roots. The mulch also helps maintain soil moisture making your winter watering even more effective. Make sure the mulch is pulled away from the trunk or stem six to eight inches to avoid trunk damage.

The nursery you purchase your trees and shrubs from should provide you specific directions on how to plant your selections and how to care for them during the winter. Be sure they provide you this info.

The depth of planting of your trees and shrubs is critical. I have seen hundreds of trees in western Colorado that were planted too deep. Many of these trees died because of this problem often several years after any warranty had expired. While planting too deep may not cause the plant's death it certainly reduces overall health resulting in future insect and disease problems. If possible be present when the trees are planted. Don't be afraid to ask questions about the planting depth. Have the crew that plants your tree show you the location of the upper-most structural roots. They should not be more than 3 inches below the surface. Some trees should not be planted more than 1-inch deep. In many cases this means soil must be removed from the top of the root ball and the depth of the planting hole adjusted accordingly.

The planting crew may mistake the graft union for the structural roots. If this happens the tree may be planted 6-8 inches too deep. Just because someone has 20-plus years of experience in planting trees does not mean he/she is up on current research regarding planting depth.


Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the CSU Extension. Reach him at or check out his blog at He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.

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The Post Independent Updated Oct 4, 2012 04:32PM Published Oct 4, 2012 04:32PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.