How to Plant a Tree

​Planting a tree is an investment in life – it will likely last a lifetime and provide beauty and value for decades.  How your investment grows and prospers depends in large part on what tree species to select to plant and where as well as the care you provide it starting with how it was initially planted.  Follow this advice when planting trees and you will most likely enjoy their beauty and value over a lifetime.

When to Plant

Trees are ideally planted when they are dormant.   This means, for most trees, between late fall and early spring.  This is the time when they are not growing and will sustain the transition from one environment to another.  Further weather conditions are cool permitting the tree to establish roots prior to any top growth demands on its system.  Planting in the summer and hot weather when the tree is focused on top growth can put stress on it and potentially lead to it struggling to stay alive. 

Tree Stress When Planting

​When a tree is burlapped or bailed, in preparation for sale, a large part of its root system is lost.  Consequently, trees often exhibit transplant shock or stress.  This condition results in a tree growing more slowly than normal and having reduced vitality.  Even container-grown trees can exhibit stress and shock when their roots are cut as a result of removal and planting.   It is critical to have proper planting location preparation and careful handling during this re-planting stage to ensure you minimize stress to the tree and promote renewed growth. 

How to Correctly Plant a Tree

The following steps will ensure you plant a tree correctly, reducing stress and promoting healthy growth:

  • Identify all underground utilities prior to any digging.
  • Note the tree flare.  This is where the trunk flares, or expands from the root system.  This flare needs to be visible after the tree is planted.  Otherwise, you have planted the tree too deeply.
  • Dig a hole 2-3 times wider and deeper than the root ball or container.  This will allow for plenty of good-quality soil backfill and oxygen to pack around the roots.  
  • Place the tree in the newly dug hole at the proper level, consistent with the trunk flare.  A tree planted too deep will struggle to develop due to the roots not getting enough water and oxygen.  
  • Ensure the tree is straight in the hole – use a small level to ensure it is 90 degrees to level ground.  You will need to take his measurement from several locations around the circumference of the trunk. 
  • Fill the hole with high-quality topsoil and organic material – packing it firmly not too hard.  Packing the soil around the root ball will stabilize the tree and prevent it from moving and leaning.  Pack enough to eliminate most air pockets.  Do not fertilize at planting time.  This would cause unnecessary top growth at the expense of root stabilization and growth, which are more important to a newly planted tree.
  • Stake the new tree, if necessary.  Use your judgment as to if the tree is stable enough without staking, or does it need some extra support to stay firmly in position.
  • Apply mulch around the base of the tree to promote water retention.  The mulch can be any organic material that retains moisture and will provide nutrients as it decomposes.   Mulch also provides consistent soil temperatures around the tree and reduces weed competition.  
  • Water the tree weekly, as necessary.  You will want to keep the soil area moist, but not flooded.  Note the amount of rain in relation to your own watering.   Also, in hotter weather, water is more frequent.