Sacred Heart NOLA tree project.jpg (copy)

Virginia Edrington, left, and Caroline Evans from Academy of the Sacred Heart plant a tree in New Orleans City Park recently.  


The cooler months of December through February are ideal for planting or moving perennial trees and shrubs. The nurseries have some wonderful stock available, and planting now gives the plants up to five months to settle into their new home and develop a deep strong root system before May when things begin to heat up. Most are also dormant or going into dormancy, so the stress of planting or transplanting is reduced.

1. Choose a site for your plant that provides adequate sun, drainage and space for maturing.

2. Dig a hole a little wider and deeper than the plant root ball.

3. Save the soil from the hole and mix with ⅓ volume of compost. You can also add a little bone meal to continuously provide phosphorus to aid in root development.

4. Remove the plant from the container. If the plant looks root-bound, tease the roots to loosen them or make several vertical cuts into the root ball. If you’re transplanting a tree or shrub, dig it allowing for a root ball at least half the diameter of the plant’s canopy and plant immediately. Do not allow the roots to dry.

5. Place the plant’s root ball into the hole. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the soil surface. If transplanting, try to maintain the same soil level the plant is used to.

6. Backfill around your plant with the soil mixture you prepared earlier. Firm the soil with your hands.

7. Prune to shape your plant and to remove some of the top to reduce demands on the root system until it is firmly established. Now is also a good time to install any staking or other type of support your plant may need.

8. Water in thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots. Fill in with more backfill as needed.

9. Mulch around your newly placed plant to retain moisture, prevent weeds and insulate the root system.

The same procedure would be followed if planting a balled and burlapped tree with the added instruction to remove any materials around the root ball that are not biodegradable.

For more information you can check the LSU AgCenter website. You can also get a free subscription to the electronic version of the GNO (Greater New Orleans Area) Gardening Newsletter by sending a request to Send your gardening questions to

Q. I have allergies. Will having a live Christmas tree be a problem?

A. A 2011 study performed by staff at the SUNY Upstate Medical University and published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that a small sample of Christmas trees carried about 50 types of mold, two-thirds of which could cause hay fever-like symptoms. The mold occurs on the trees naturally and thrives in the warm conditions of a well-heated home at Christmas.

The team also reported another study which found that after a Christmas tree has been on display for two weeks, the number of airborne mold spores increases from 800 per 35 cubic feet to 5,000.

Some say that hosing off your tree and allowing it to dry before bringing it in will remove a lot of the spores — no research yet to back that up. But it's worth noting that improperly stored artificial trees are also a source of allergens due to the dust, spores and detritus they collect while waiting to be erected. Take this into consideration when deciding on your holiday decorations.

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are LSU AgCenter extension agents. Questions? Email