How to Plant a Tree
Planting a tree isn't as simple as just digging
a hole and throwing the tree in it. If you want
the tree you're planting to survive and thrive,
here's what to do.
and root ball.
Stake as shown,
• Select the right time of year for planting the tree. Do not plant in late
spring or summer because the heat will stress the plant and may cause it to
die. The best time to plant a tree is fall (autumn) or early spring.
• Check to see if there are any local requirements concerning digging
deep holes if you need to dig near telephone and other cables (for example,
in urban areas).
• Choose a suitable tree for the region, climate, and space.
• Research local cultivars of species native to your area. If you will plant a
non-native species, consider carefully why.
• Look at the characteristics of the various species you are considering,
including how quickly and how large they grow, how much cleanup they
require, and their tolerance to diseases, drought, and insects.
• Understand the growth habits of the tree you will plant, and the shape that
your tree will have when it is mature.
• Select a healthy tree. If there are leaves on it, look at the condition of the
leaves, but remember that the best time to plant many deciduous trees is
when they are dormant.
tree, in its pot,
think it should
go. Then step
back and take
a good look.
Decide where you want the tree. Remember that
trees will grow large, so in addition to arranging it
according to how you want the area to look, think
• What will the tree shade, and what it might touch or
cover when it is fully grown?
• Will it be too close to any sidewalks, houses, or power
• Does your planting location tend to flood or puddle
heavily when it is wet? Choose a site with good
drainage. Planting holes can form natural ponds in
non-percolating conditions, and many trees will drown
if their roots are completely submerged.
Prepare the hole. Take a suitable shovel
and dig a hole. The size of the hole depends on
the plant. Try to dig it a little larger so that your
plant will fit easily. Dig a hole 2-3 times the
width of the root ball, not just enough so it will
fit. This lets the roots ease in more easily and
begin to grow outwards into the soil. It also
allows you to cut off the root basket if there is
one. See next item on creating a pedestal in
the center of the hole. Water the base of the
hole and let the water seep through into the
• Try to dig the hole with a small "pedestal" of dirt in the center of
the hole where the tree will rest. The hole should be a little
deeper around the edges but there should be a pedestal of dirt
in the center where the root ball sits. This pedestal prevents the
root ball from sitting continuously in water. Any excess water
will naturally flow to the deeper areas of the hole around the
edges where the roots can drink from if needed. Having a
pedestal in the center of the hole is very important since one of
the major reasons why trees die is "drowning", meaning the tree
is getting too much water and the root ball is sitting in a pool of
water. The point where the tree comes out of the ground should
be slightly higher than the ground around it. Slightly higher
means 1/4 to 1/2 inch. This prevents water from collecting next
to the base of the trunk which causes the tree to rot. Score the
sides of the hole if the soil around where you are planting the
tree is heavy in clay or very compacted. Use the side or point of
your shovel to make grooves. This will help the tree's roots to
penetrate a little better.
• Prepare the tree for planting. The process is slightly
different for a small tree and a large tree:
If it is a small tree, then you can turn it upside down
gently to get it out of the pot. You could also cut some
plastic containers to remove them.
• If the tree is larger and has a net or a hessian or rope
bag, you might need to use large scissors or a sharp
knife to cut through the packaging. Avoid handling the
tree with the burlap off. Put it in the hole, then cut, if
possible, or cut it and unwrap right next to the hole
and lower it in as gently as you can.
• Don't leave a tree's roots out of its container or burlap
for too long. Especially in sun and wind, it could dry
out and damage the roots.
Place the tree into the hole so that the
crown will be level with the soil.
Place the tree into the hole gently. Be
sure the hole isn't too deep or too shallow. The
ground level of the plant in the pot should
match up with the ground level after you fill the
hole in. Do not bury over the crown (where the
stem changes to root) or leave any roots
You can place the handle of your shovel flat
across the hole from one side to the other to
measure whether the crown is level with the
surrounding soil before filling in the hole.
• Add fertilizer only after the hole is dug. All plants
need fertilizer to thrive, but too much and you will burn
the leaves or kill the plant. Follow the package
directions. A good choice is slow release fertilizer,
available from garden stores.
• Over-fertilizing can result in growth that is too fast.
This growth might not be very strong or well-formed.
More is not better.
Use some compost or composted manure if needed.
If the soil that you currently have is not rich, has clay-
like qualities or if it has the consistency of dust or
sand, the addition of manure or compost will give the
tree a great start in life. Backfill three quarters of the
hole with existing dirt, one quarter with compost or
• Composted organic matter also includes lots of
nutrients for your tree. You may be able to do without
a commercial fertilizer.
• Give fruit and nut trees extra attention. Adding
manure or compost is essential if you are planting a
fruit or nut tree. Backfill two thirds of the hole with
existing dirt and one third with compost or composted
manure for each fruit or nut tree.
• Water the newly planted tree. Allow settling, backfill
the remaining soil, and water again. This will eliminate
air pockets. Water one gallon (3.7 liters) for every six
inches (15 cm) of tree height.
Mulch, mulch, mulch! Cover the planting hole with
1-3 inches (2.5 cm - 7.6 cm) of shredded hardwood or
leaf mulch. Do not put mulch against the trunk or it will
rot. Don't over-mulch the tree, either. A few inches are
enough to keep water in and most weeds out. Mulch a
circle out to the drip line, about the same width as the
• A visible patch of mulch also helps remind people not
to step or mow or run a string trimmer too close to the
• Water it again. After the planting is finished come
back in about an hour and water one more time.
• Stake the tree if necessary, for about the first year. Make sure
that whatever stakes you use are tied loosely to the trunk and
do not dig into the bark or tighten around the tree. Remove the
stakes once the roots have a chance to become established,
after about the first year. Staking protects the tree against
blowing over in the wind, and it can also help to remind people
moving around the tree not to run into it.
• Keep watering your tree for the first few years as it gets
established. Depending on the climate and your area, it will
need weekly watering until the roots are established. To form
deep roots, water deeply. A long, slow trickle of water will water
more deeply than a quick sprinkling. Remember, deep roots
help your tree to be resist droughts and winds. Let the ground
dry out, at least somewhat, between watering.
• Enjoy the tree as it grows over the years with you and your
family. Appreciate its shade and beauty and thank yourself for
adding another tree to the world.
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