Crabapple's 10th Anniversary and Fall Planting Advice

Ten years ago I planted this crabapple (Malus 'Guinivere') in a bed bordered by the side of the garage, the front porch and the walkway that takes you from the driveway to the porch. I took this picture shortly after I planted it. (I scanned in the picture so it is not the best quality.)

I bought my crabapple tree from a nursery on the other side of town, where they grow a lot of their trees and actually have the trees planted until you buy them. Then when you buy a tree, they give you a little stake and tell you to put it by the hole where you want it. Then they dig the tree up and deliver it right to your house and even set it in the hole. For free! (The delivery part, not the tree part.)

At the same time that I bought the crabapple, I also bought an Oriental Spruce, Picea orientalis 'Green Knight'.

This is a picture I took soon after I planted both them on August 28, 1997. (Also scanned in.)

I dug the holes myself, and made sure they were nice wide holes, ready to receive my new trees. I was confident in my hole digging having learned to dig a good tree hole in college (really!) After digging what I thought were good holes, I placed the stakes beside them and waited for the nursery to deliver my trees.

A few days later, I came home from work and saw that the nursery had delivered my trees. They placed the spruce right down in the hole I had dug for it, so in a matter of minutes I finished planting it.

Then I turned my attention to the crabapple, which they had left beside its hole. I hadn't dug the hole deep enough, I decided, so dug down a bit more. Then I used my shovel to determine the depth of the hole and compared it to the height of the root ball. Like they do on TV. Hmmmm... looked about right, I decided.

So I pushed with all my strength and shoved the crabapple root ball down into the hole.

Guess what?

The hole wasn't deep enough.

And there was no way I was going to be able to lift the tree out of the hole. Because a cubic foot of dirt ways around 80 pounds, I think.

Guess what I did?

No, I did not call the nursery and have them come back out and plant the tree for me, but good guess.

I dug some more. I extended the width of the hole enough so that I could drag the tree over to the side at the same level it was sitting in the hole, and then dug the original hole deeper and shoved the tree back over again.

That was a lot of digging, and for a moment, that moment when I didn't know what I was going to do, I wished I had just paid the nurseryman to plant the trees.

But ten years later, all's well that end's well.

I can't believe how small the trees started out and how much they've grown. They were the most expensive plants I had ever purchased for my garden, but I think they were well worth it. There is no one else in the neighborhood with a spruce like mine, nor anyone with as beautiful a crabapple as this one. (Ask any of my neighbors, if you don't believe me!)

And now some useful information from the gardener here at May Dreams Gardens, for a change. My tips on buying trees and shrubs for the landscape...

If the nurseryman is going to deliver the trees anyway, let them plant them, too. I did a lot of digging to plant that crabapple, digging the equivalent of two holes. I always figure that a cubic foot of dirt is going to weigh about 80 pounds. I have no business trying to shove or lift something that heavy.

When you buy focal point plants, plan to spend some money. Buy good specimen trees and shrubs from a reputable nursery. You'll find something different, like I did, and get a chance to talk to someone who really knows about the plants before you decide to buy them. They should help you pick out a good tree or shrub that will grow where you want to plant it.

Plant in the fall. It really is the best time to plant from the tree and shrubs' perspective. And it will force you to go to real garden centers or nurseries to get the plants because the big box stores won't have much left. They are all shutting down their garden centers; most of them just have a bunch of left over plants on clearance, which might be tempting to buy. Indeed, I'll admit to having tried a few clearance plants in the past. But be careful and inspect them closely before you buy them. Don't be afraid to pull them out of the containers to check the roots. And if you can't get them to easily come out of their containers, it likely means they are very pot bound. Don't count on your green thumb to bring back a plant that has been sitting there all summer, most likely not getting the kind of care that a good garden center or nursery would give it. Even if it makes it, it may be years before it "snaps out of it".

Keep a garden journal. That's how I know I planted these trees on August 28, 1997. The specific date isn't important, but it's nice to know the year (isn't it?)

Plant for the future. Trees and shrubs should you bring you years of enjoyment so buy good ones!


  1. I agree with you a great deal but I do think that as a home owner on a budget you can save a lot of money by planting a tree yourself. The important thing is to measure the rootball's depth and width and then dig a hole accordingly. The depth is at the same level but the width is about a foot wider than the width.

    A lot of garden centers such as the one I work for will deliver and place the tree in the hole that you've dug . So you save yourself the planting fee which is half the cost of the tree, a substantial amount.

    Of course if you don't dig the hole deep enough it's not possible to lift the tree out by yourself. so you'll have to improvise as you did, a good move.

    Your trees look beautiful and I'm so happy to see that they've survived.

  2. Cool picture of your house, Carol. And a nice cathedral window for your houseplants too (unless it's now blocked by your very nice spruce). Your saga of planting the crabapple sounds like something I would do, except I would have had the neighbors help me!

    I'm also very impressed that you keep a garden journal. I started one once but got sick of it after a month or so.

    Nice before-and-after photos!

  3. So Carol, If you were to recommend ONE tree to someone to plant, just one (south side of the driveway), what would it be? It would have room to grow fairly large, and that would be OK, but just across the drive is that huge scarlet oak. What's your advice?

  4. Several years ago my husband & I planted a b&b tree ourselves to save $. We followed accepted horticultural practices, planting the top of the rootball just slightly above grade. Fast forward to this summer. After watching a tree-planting video recommended by those helpful folks on the Tree Forum at Gardenweb, I discovered that my tree was planted 8" too deep! If you think it's hard to dig a deeper hole for a new plant, imagine trying to make a shallower hole for an established tree. I excavated around the poor tree & removed a couple of roots that would have girdled the tree. It is now in a slight depression, but it appears to be no worse for the experience. Maybe now it will finally start growing faster & thriving.

  5. Carol & sister with the homestead- how about a redbud tree or a small Japanese red maple, like we used to have?

  6. I always admire a gardener with the foresight to take photos of the garden in its infancy. Bonus points if you remembered to take photos BEFORE you started planting. Isn't it nice to go back years later and marvel at the growth?

    Your trees look great!

  7. Thanks for the great tips and information Carol!

  8. Carolyn Gail... I agree that money can be saved by planting yourself and I think that is a good way to go if you know what you are doing. You've provide good instructions. I don't know why garden centers charge half of whatever the tree cost. I wish it was just a fixed amount per tree. Maybe if someone buys enough trees, they can negotiate on the planting fees.

    LostRoses.... The window is nice but believe it or not, I don't have any plants in that room. The window is not blocked by the spruce, it just looks that way because of where I stood to take the picture. I didn't want everyone to see the ugly hose reel and drought-stressed shrubs under the window!

    Sister with the homestead... I'd plant two trees... and have your new neighbors plant one by their drive, too, so there are three trees over there.

    Mr. McGregor's Daughter... Trees do sometimes take some time to recover from transplanting!

    Eleanor... Redbud, yes, Japanese maple, no.

    Pam/digging... I get the bonus points as I have pictures of the house with no landscaping at all. I love bonus points! I do like to go back and see how the trees have grown.

    Rosemarie... You're welcome!

    Thanks all for helping me celebrate my two trees' 10th anniversary of planting her at May Dreams Gardens.


  9. Your crabapple and your spruce trees are gorgeous. It's amazing to see them when they were first planted. They look dwarfed by the house in the first picture.

    It is a good idea to keep a journal because, over time, the years start to blur together.

  10. The trees are pretty. Your right it is best to plant in the fall. A journal of when you planted your trees came in handy.

  11. We had three blue spruce at the front edge of our yard when we moved here ten years ago - they were about 12-15 high and were planted from knee-high by the original owners. The two that survived a big storm a few years ago (one leans at about a eight degree angle (but removal is too expensive for us)) are probably thirty-plus giants. We were told that around here spruce die off at about fifteen years because of a disease that is prevalent here...these are about 18 years-old and are very healthy.

    I planted a cold-hardy magnolia when we first moved here - very slow-growing. It was in a gallon bucket when I bought it - it is now about eight feet tall - ten years - that is well-less than a foot a year.

    Planting trees is fun. I always liked the idea of planting a tree when each child was born. Obviously, we didn't. :)

    The woman who we bought this house from said the cherry tree wasn't supposed to get more than 6 feet - I bet it is about 14 now and quite wide and bushy - and prolific - I like my cherry tree...I would definitely plant one if/when we move again.

  12. Poor thing, you really dug a hole for yourself when you dug the hole that wasn't deep enough for the crabapple. What a lot of hard work that must have been, but luckily all is well that ends well. Phew!

  13. Kate... You are so right that the years are all kind of a blur. I am glad I took pictures when I first planted those trees.

    Curtis... Thanks. I hope to do some planting this fall of some new shrubs.

    Me... Those sound like some good spruces you have.

    Yolanda Elizabet... Yes, all's well that ends well. That crabapple tree is also where I usually have a robin build a nest in the spring, right in the center where the branches are all grafted on, so I can readily see it.

    Thanks for the nice comments,
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens


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