Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our trees are here!

I was sitting at the keyboard, trying to figure out how to make a blog entry about getting stuff on sale from L.L. Bean sound more exciting, when I heard a ring at the doorbell. When I opened it, a burly guy handed me a long package, wrapped in white plastic, with the unmistakeable tips of branches poking out of the end. Our trees are here! Now that's exciting!

Following the instructions on the web (which were also enclosed with our packing order), I took off the outer packaging immediately. Next I was supposed to check and make sure our order was complete, but that proved a bit difficult. The insert noted that "labels and smaller plants can be hidden down inside the inner root wrapper," but I didn't want to take the inner wrapper off to check, because it also warned that "roots should not be exposed to air, even for a little while." So I dug in under the wrapper as best I could with my stubby little fingers until I finally managed to unearth eight labels: one Opal plum tree, one Mount Royal plum, one Golden Gage plum, one Jan bush cherry, two Joy bush cherries, two Joel bush cherries, six Autumn Bliss Raspberries, and six Redwing raspberries. Our new edible landscape in a bag.

Next I checked to make sure the roots were still nice and moist. Again, this wasn't so easy without unwrapping them, but the sawdust they were packed in felt moist, and the whole bundle felt sort of sodden from the outside, so I concluded that they were okay. Since it was clearly impossible to plant them right away (with Brian still at work and only three hours of daylight left and a rehearsal in Princeton at 8pm), I carried them downstairs to sit in the cool, dark laundry room until planting time.

I fired off a quick e-mail to Brian to let him know the plants had arrived, along with the suggestion that we get up early on Saturday to get them into the ground as soon as possible. He promptly came back with a counter-proposal: he's taking tomorrow off work so we can devote the day to planting. That will give us plenty of time to get the job done (and leave at least part of Saturday free to attend the International Tabletop Day festivities at our local comic/game store).

So now I'm busily plugging away at the "Planting Guide" that was enclosed with our order to make sure I know as much as possible about how to plant these guys before we start trying to get them in the ground. Here's what I've learned so far:
  • As noted above, the roots are supposed to be kept moist and not exposed to air at any point, even briefly. That means that we'll probably want to dig all the holes for everything—the three trees, the raspberry canes and the five bush cherries—before we start planting.
  • As we already knew from planting our ill-fated dwarf cherry tree, a "five-dollar tree" needs a "ten-dollar hole"—that is, about twice as big in diameter as the root ball. The book says to make the hole 2 to 4 feet across and 1 1/2 to 2 feet deep, with straight rather than tapered sides. In clay soil, like ours, the edges of the hole should be roughened up with the shovel to break up the clay and allow the roots to break through more easily.
  • The tree should be set in with the "graft union" about an inch below ground level. I'm not sure how you're supposed to tell where the graft union is, but the book says just to plant it about an inch deeper than it looks like it was planted originally. So I guess you just look for the level to which dirt reaches up the trunk, and go just a bit deeper.
  • When the hole gets filled, the soil should go back in reverse order, with the looser topsoil on the bottom and the heavier sod on top. When the hole is about half full, the tree should be soaked with 2 to 3 gallons of water before the rest of the soil is added. The tree needs to end up sitting in a "saucer," slightly below ground level, so that water will flow towards the trunk. Once it's in place, it's supposed to get another 2 to 3 gallons of water, leaving the soil "mucky" and "jello-like."
  • Compost and mulch, according to the book, should go on top of the soil, not in it. The tree should get a deep layer of mulch distributed in a dish shape—about an inch thick in the middle and gradually deepening to 6-8 inches thick on the edges. The book suggests laying newspaper under the mulch to deter weeds.
  • Newly planted trees need a lot of water. The book says to give them "5-10 gallons of water per tree regularly"—every day if you can manage it and by no means less than once a week, even in wet weather. They say the only time you can safely skip watering is if you feel the soil (under the mulch) and it feels waterlogged. According to the book, "Ninety percent of all tree failures in the first season are caused by lack of water."
  • The owners of St. Lawrence Nurseries claim that plum trees do not like clay soil. However, I read enough sources claiming exactly the reverse that I feel no hesitation about planting them (especially since we're pretty much committed now).
And that's just the information on the trees. The bushes have a whole separate set of instructions. I'd better buckle down and learn this stuff before our big day tomorrow.

(Oh, and by the way, only one of our local utilities—the water company—has gotten back to us about our "call before you dig" query. So it looks like we are indeed going rogue.)
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