Wanna Waste Money? Amend Your Soil

'Autumn Blaze' maple at Bernheim Arboretum in Clermont, Kentucky

Dear Grumpy Gardener,

Why do I find some instructions saying when I plant my tree, I should not amend the soil with any compost, peat, other soil, or fertilizer? It says to backfill with the soil that was removed from the hole. Other times I have read to mix the removed soil with all sorts of things to loosen it up. I have a bag of Tree and Shrub garden soil.

Do I or do I not use it to plant my beautiful 10 ft. Autumn Blaze maple? Jo

Grumpy says:

Here is why I don't believe in amending the soil when planting a shade tree like 'Autumn Blaze.' Many people think that the root system of a tree is a mirror-image of its trunk and branches. It's not. In fact, the root system of most trees looks pretty much like a pancake spreading far beyond the branches with the vast majority of roots in the top 6 inches of soil.

What's this means is that the roots don't stay in a tiny hole of amended soil. They spread out into the soil you have. Amending soil may actually inhibit root growth, as roots don't like growing from one type of soil into another. So what you should do is this:

1. Dig a hole at least three times wider than the root ball, but no deeper 2. Plant the root ball so that its top inch rises above the soil surface 3. Backfill around the root ball with loosened soil you dug out 4. Water thoroughly to settle the soil 5. Cover the top of the root ball with mulch.

The tree probably comes with slow-release fertilizer added, so there's no need to add more now. In the future, fertilize the tree by sprinkling tree fertilizer on the soil surface underneath the branches, but not up against the trunk.

Yet Another Reason I Resent My Son

This is my 15-year-old son, Brian, and his date for the Homecoming Dance, Savannah. I told him to make sure he picked a cute girl and he obviously followed instructions. So why am I resentful? Because I didn't have a date until I was 38 years old. Oh sure, eventually I married a hottie, but there were 25 lost years in the meantime. What a tragic loss for all of femaledom!