Although tree installation seems like a low-stakes affair, it plays an important role in the tree's long-term health, and problems present at the outset only become more serious with time. As any arborist will tell you, many of the problems that afflict mature trees arise from mistakes made during planting.

These problems are easy to avoid or correct at the outset, but once the tree has established itself and taken on its mature form and size, these problems can be quite expensive to fix. In fact, many such problems are essentially impossible to correct later, and require you to have the tree removed.

Save yourself some heartache and money by avoiding these three common mistakes.

Mistake 1: Failing to Address Circling or Girdling Roots

Most homeowners purchase container-grown trees for their landscaping projects. While container-grown trees offer a number of benefits to the consumer, many have already outgrown their container by the time the consumer has purchased them.

When this happens, the tree's roots run out of room, which causes them to start growing in a circular pattern around the inside of the container. In some cases, the roots can even wrap themselves around the trunk or major roots, thereby preventing water and nutrients from traveling up and down the tree.

Try to straighten any roots that grow in a circular pattern and spread them out so they radiate in more-or-less straight lines from the trunk. If any of the roots have wrapped themselves around the trunk or roots, cut them away to restore the tree's ability to transport resources.  

Mistake 2: Using Gravel to Improve Drainage

Some tree species require well-drained soil, which can represent a problem for those who live in areas where the soil is comprised of hard-packed clay. To improve the drainage, people often place gravel in the bottom of the tree-planting hole.

However, this tactic is wholly ineffective; in fact, it makes the problem worse. Water does not easily percolate from soil to gravel, and the change in substrate will actually cause the soil around the root ball to retain water until it becomes saturated – only then will the water begin to drip into the gravel layer below.

Accordingly, you should avoid adding gravel to tree-planting holes, regardless of the drainage characteristics of the soil. Instead, the best choice is to select tree species that can survive in areas with hard, clay soils.

Mistake 3: Planting Trees in Insufficient Spaces

Many homeowners try to cram large tree species into areas that cannot adequately host large trees. While you can trim the crown of a mature tree to shrink its spread somewhat, overly aggressive pruning stresses trees.

It is also important to consider that most trees produce root systems that essentially mirror the growth of the canopy. Unlike above ground branches, root systems are very hard to prune without compromising the structural stability and health of the tree.

To avoid such problems, research the typical spread of the species you intend to plant. Most oaks, maples, pines and cedars are too large for small plots, so avoid them in favor of smaller species, such as redbuds, dogwoods and crepe myrtles. Contact a tree service, like L and M Tree Services, for further help.