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I am currently landscaping my yard. I plan on completing everything with the exception of planting a few small, narrow trees around the perimeter. I will be doing that next year.

While everything is a mess now, I am considering digging the holes for the future trees, putting ~5 gal buckets in the holes and then backfilling. My thought is that this will make it easier to come back next year, pull out the buckets, make any necessary small adjustments to the size of the hole and plant the trees without having to make a big mess.

Is this an OK idea? Are there any problems with it? The only problem I can think of is that the subsoil is heavy clay which could really stick to the bucket, so getting the bucket out come next year could prove to be a challenge.

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    You'd fill the buckets with soil? And then what, it's easier to just pull the bucket out in a year? Doesn't really seem to be any benefit there, as that bucket isn't going to come out easily in a year. Just dig a few new holes next year – mmathis Aug 4 '16 at 21:04
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    By putting the buckets in now you wont tear up the lawn as bad, back filling around the buckets with a little sand would keep the clay from sticking. I would probably drill a hole or two in the bottom of the bucket so it will drain and not be full of water. – Ed Beal Aug 4 '16 at 21:27
  • I think the bucket could become half rotten and brittle after a few months in the ground. That would cause you to end up digging the hole twice. But if you were only using it for a few weeks I could see it expediting the process. +Ed for helpful ideas. – Ben Welborn Aug 4 '16 at 21:29
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I did a small calculation:

  • 5 gal. soil weighs at least around 90 pounds, more when wet.
  • The bucket needs drainage holes unless you are in a very dry area.
  • It does not stand freely, but is burried in the ground, causing it to "stick", especially with your clay. The sand some commenter suggested won't help too much.

So next year you want to pull those buckets out again. That means:

  • You have to lift the weight against the resistance of the soil, which means more force than for the weight of the buckets alone. Multiple times and by hand, because machinery would ruin your lawn, which defeats the purpose.
    I wouldn't be physically able to do this, but ok, I'm a woman and my back isn't in the best possible shape. So even if you are well trained:
  • The bucket has only a handle, not an ergonomic grip, and it may not be designed to hold the weight. Especially after months of exposure to UV and temperature changes made the plastic brittle. But even if it holds:
  • Drilling drainage holes weakens the bottom of the bucket, making it likely to break - and you'll be back at square one, digging the hole for the tree plus excavating bucket pieces.

But I have a few less technical points to consider:

  • You might want to double-check the required planting hole for your trees, 5 gal. could be a bit small.
  • And finally, I would always want to keep my flexibility and dig when the trees have arrived. Preferably after standing them in their designated spots to check how it looks.
    What if your nursery is a tree or two short? Or gives you an extra? What if during the winter you have an epiphany and decide to make small alterations to the current plan?
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There may well be problems for the trees you plant in those previously 'bucketed' areas. You've said the soil is heavy clay, so let's suppose you put the buckets in place, wait a year, then 'remove' them and simply pop the trees into the holes and backfill, presumably with some good soil or compost. What you will have done is create a sump or well for water to collect in, because the surrounding soil hasn't been disturbed or dug for a year and is now pretty solid and impervious, therefore, any rain will soak into the hole where the tree is because the soil there is much less impervious - water will take the easiest route, so that's where it'll end up. Unless you live somewhere that's very dry most of the year, this won't be healthy for the tree roots.

With heavy clay soil, it's important to dig over an area at least 3 (preferably more) times larger than the rootball of the tree you're planting, to try to lessen this effect, a week or so prior to planting, and any emendments you make to the soil should be over that whole area, not just packed in round the tree.

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If you leave the buckets empty, you may be starting a mosquito farm as water collects in them.

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    This is more of a comment than an answer. – Edwin Aug 4 '16 at 23:27

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