Asked January 20, 2021, 11:00 AM EST
Baltimore County Maryland
Keep the roots covered and/or moist or at least very humid until they can go into the ground; desiccation is their greatest risk now. (Cold can be problematic, but mostly as it relates to tying-up water in frozen form, essentially also causing desiccation.) If immediate planting is not possible, pot them up with potting soil (compost or topsoil will suffice if you don't have any) into containers with good drainage, and insulate the root ball from drastic temperature swings. Then, plant them in their final locations in the ground as soon as you are able.
If the planting holes have not already been prepared, do so as soon as the ground conditions permit (thawed and not soggy). Finding the root flare to ensure proper planting depth on such small saplings can be challenging, since it will not yet have much of a literal flare; do your best to determine where the trunk transforms into root(s) (this is and will further develop into the "root flare") and make this point level with the soil surface where it is being planted. Backfill the planting hole with either crumbled existing soil only or with a modest amount of compost that is well-blended with the existing soil. Avoid compressing the backfill too much when replacing it; instead, you can use a watering to settle soil into any air pockets and top-off as it settles. If you need to press it down, do so lightly with a hand rather than a foot, where it's easier to overdo it.
Mulching when finished will help moderate soil temperatures, minimize evaporation, and discourage weeds. Keep mulch away from the trunk itself by a few inches; you can extend how far the mulch ring reaches as the tree ages; this is especially recommended if the tree will be surrounded by lawn. If deer visit the yard, protect the young trees until they are out of browsing reach, though long-term protection efforts should focus on keeping the trunk untouched during the autumn rut, when antler rubs can cause serious or fatal damage.
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On Jan 20, 2021, at 1:15 PM, Ask Extension wrote: