Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. In Mississippi, Arbor Day is always celebrated on the second Friday in February. Although tree planting is recommended throughout the fall and early spring, we can make Arbor Day special by planting a tree on that day. . .and doing it correctly!

A correctly planted tree has a greater chance for survival and will produce a higher quality, longer lived tree. To get your tree off to a good start and long life, follow this 10 step planting procedure.

Step one-conduct a soil test for your planting site. Knowing the soil pH will help you determine the tree species to plant or tell you how to adjust the soil for your desired species. A soil test will also tell you about future nutritional needs of the tree.

Step two-select a tree species that is appropriate for your zone and site. Remember you live in Mississippi, not Colorado (blue spruce) or Norfolk Island (pine). Also, not all trees that are adapted for our growing zone will grow on all our sites.

Step three-look up and around. If there is a power line, light pole, or building nearby that could interfere with proper development of the tree canopy as it grows, plant it elsewhere, or plant a tree that has a small canopy at maturity.

Step four-dig a shallow but wide planting hole. To determine the depth of the planting hole, measure the distance between the point where the topmost root emerges from the trunk and the bottom of the root ball. Dig a hole slightly shallower than this distance. The planting hole should be 2-3 times the width of the root ball or container. Slope and roughen the sides of planting hole, but leave bottom of hole undisturbed.

Step five-find the topmost root and treat root defects. Choose a tree whose topmost root emerges from the trunk at or slightly above the surface. Not all root balls come from the nursery like that. You might need to remove excess soil to find the topmost root. Cut or spread out any circling roots. This will prevent these roots from girdling the trunk in the future.

Step six-carefully place the tree into the planting hole. Lift large trees with straps or rope around the root ball to avoid damage. Do not lift it by the trunk as this can break the root ball from the trunk. Position the topmost root slightly above (about 1 - 2 inches) the top of the soil. It is better to plant a tree too high than to plant it too deep.

Step seven-remove all materials such as string, rope, burlap, or wire baskets. If you cannot get all the burlap and baskets off, roll them down to the bottom of the hole.

Step eight-get dirty. Crumble the original soil and backfill the hole around the tree. Do not overpack the loosened soil, especially when the soil is wet. Add water to eliminate air pockets in the hole. Fill any holes or depressions with additional backfill soil.

Step nine-mulch properly. Too much mulch or not enough mulch is common. Apply mulch to a depth of 3-4 inches. Do not pile mulch around the base of trees. Spread the mulch out instead of going up with mulch. A 2 to 3 foot diameter circle of mulch per inch of tree trunk diameter is adequate for newly planted trees. Pine straw, cypress bark, pine bark, and hardwood bark are good mulch materials.

Step ten-stake the tree if necessary to hold the root ball firmly in the soil. Staking is recommended on all bare root trees and others that are 2 inch diameter and larger. If the root ball moves in the wind, emerging roots could break and trees will establish slowly. Tying materials should be a wide strap that is removed after the first year. Straps should be loose enough to allow some trunk movement.

Provide the newly planted trees with 1-2 inches of water per week for first growing season.

For more detailed planting instructions or to choose appropriate trees for your area, contact your local Extension Service office and request Publication 666, "Selecting Landscape Pants" or Information Sheet IS0965 "Transplanting Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape.