Tree Trunk Wrapped With Dog Food Bag

Q: I recently purchased a new home and have some questions about the tree planted by the builder in the back yard. It has been planted for 4-5 months. The tree has a used dog food bag wrapped around the bottom of the trunk. Is this necessary? What would be the purpose? When can it be removed?

There are also exposed roots and what looks like burlap around the roots. Other homes in the neighborhood also have the dog food bag wrapped around the trunk. Was the tree planting botched?

A: “Botched” might be too weak to describe this planting!

Tree trunk wrap is sometimes used to protect trees from freeze injury or from summer sun scald. It might also be used to protect the bark from bruising when trees are loaded on a truck for transportation. Perhaps someone at the tree farm had access to the dog food bags and decided they could do the job as well as commercial tree wrap. In any case, the protection should?ve been removed when the tree was planted.

I can see that the tree was planted too deeply because I don’t see roots flaring out from the bottom of the trunk. Gently excavate the base of the tree to find the uppermost big root. It should be level with the surrounding landscape soil. If it is buried too deeply, the tree will eventually decline and die.

Burlap should never be left on the root ball of a tree when planted. It may eventually rot but it will inhibit root growth for at least a year. Your tree roots need to spread out immediately to provide anchoring and to gather moisture and nutrients. Burlap keeps that from happening.

Here is what I recommend: carefully dig around the root ball and use a razor knife to remove every bit of burlap. Gently remove soil from the top of the root ball until you find the highest major root. Get some friends to lift the tree until the root is level with its surroundings while you pack soil underneath to hold the tree up in place. Put your excavated soil back around the root ball and flood it with water. Spread a 2″ layer of pine chip mulch out 3′ from the trunk. Plan to slowly pour 5 gallons of water next to the trunk every 3 days until daytime temperatures are in the 80’s.

No guarantees, but that’s what I would do to keep the tree alive.

You are welcome to share my advice with your neighbors.