Sometimes people put a $10 plant in a $1 hole. What we say out here is you should put a $1 plant in a $10 hole. You need to create a hole; it needs to be much wider than the root ball.
It's sometimes good to enrich the soil. Whenever you plant a tree, or any plant, you're damaging some of its roots, and you're going to have to give it a little TLC. You want to have a healthy root system that will expand. You want to provide some kind of inducement so that it will expand. Roots are stupid, they're lazy, they'll take the path of least resistance. So if you have a tiny little hole, what are they going to do? They aren't going to try to push through hard dirt. They're just going to travel around and around, and around—until they stop working.
If a plant is in a stress situation, it can take nutrients from its old growth and bring them to the new part. So if there's a nutrient deficiency, where you'll see it is in the older leaves, because the plant is kind of feeding on itself. If you see new green growth and old yellow growth, it's more than likely due to a nutrient deficiency.
There are also a host of minor nutrients. If you're in a place that has high rainfall, molybdenum and sulphur can become deficient—they literally get washed out of the soil. Molybdenum is necessary for plants to be able to use nitrogen. Places in the Southeast often have a molybdinum deficiency. You can replace nitrogen, but if you don't replace the micronutrients, you're not going to get full use of the fertilizer.
Ninety five percent or more of the problems you have in your landscape are going to be cultural. If you have good cultural practices you're not going to have these problems.
Trees: Never be afraid to reject trees that come in. If you order them, you're the customer and you don't have to accept them. They grow a lot of junk out there.
If the tree has a stake next to the trunk, get it off immediately. It's bad for the tree; it's tree abuse.
Cutting off branches: Unfortunately, in years past, we told people to cut them off against the trunk and we did it so well that now we're having a problem trying to let people know that we told you wrong. So don't cut a limb flush. And don't paint the spot afterward, because then you seal in moisture and you can get rot.
Pruning pines: I know it's really hard, especially where you have a lot of mowing, but trees are big shrubs until they become mature. And so often when you buy plants from nurseries, they're what we call "lollipops" a shape that will cause problems in the future.
You need the limb structure to be all the way down the trunk. If you trim the branches all the way up to make it look like what we think a tree should look like, then it becomes a sail—it catches the wind and doesn't distribute it all the way through—and then you have a problem.
This article compiled from an address presented by the authors at the 2006 ICFA Annual Convention