Planting Trees

Planting a young tree is not difficult. However, because trees are usually more expensive, more permanent additions to the landscape than flower or vegetable plants, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO DO IT PROPERLY so it survives.

In recent years, techniques for planting trees and shrubs have been revised by horticultural professionals to reflect changes in modern growing practices, new nursery materials and new understandings of soils and tree growth.

Part of planting correctly is selecting the proper location for the tree. Whether you begin with the site and then buy a tree, or you begin with a tree that you like and then choose a site for it, the space, soil and available light must be appropriate for the particular tree. Consider its eventual mature size and shape, its root system, and the type of soil and climate it likes. In residential landscapes overhead utility wires and underground cables and septic systems must be accommodated.

Click here for more information on Selecting a Tree .

Different Planting Forms
Deciduous trees which (drop)their leaves in the autumn and broadleaf or needled evergreen trees are sold three ways.

Balled and burlapped: (B&B): Larger trees, over 3 or 4 years old, are commonly sold with their roots and ball of soil wrapped in burlap. It holds the soil on the roots and protects them until planting time. It is fastened with twine and/or a wire basket.

Containerized: Increasingly nurseries are growing trees of all sizes and kinds in containers, rather than in the ground. Available at many garden centers, they transplant very well because their roots are hardly disturbed.

Bare Root: Trees ordered by mail usually arrive as young “whips” with their roots bare of soil and wrapped in moist sawdust or other absorbent material and sealed in plastic to keep them moist.

Planting Times
The best time for planting all bare root and balled and burlapped deciduous trees is during the fall soon after their leaves drop. The soil stays warm even as the air begins to cool. Trees can put their energy into generating roots and not have to divert it into producing foliage.


Common Tree Planting Mistakes


It would seem that planting a tree is a fairly straight-forward task.  Dig a hole, pop that sucker in the hole and water, water, water.  The problem is that over the years various tree planting myths have evolved so there are at least eight points in the tree planting process where you can screw everything up, and sometimes eventually kill the tree. 


We can rest easier now that Linda Chalker-Scott, the horticultural myth buster has had her book “The Informed Gardener” published (available on Amazon).  The book is a collection of some 36 myths that she bombs right out of the water


So here’s the straight skinny on planting a tree by the myth buster herself.


Time To Plant – Fall is the best time to plant any woody plant including trees and shrubs.  Spring however is second best and can be successful if you keep the plant watered very well during the heat of summer. 


Dig The Hole – Some books say the hole should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the rootball.  Wrong.  It should be twice as wide but should be the same depth of the rootball. 


Take The Cover Off – I don’t care if the folks at the garden center with a straight face tell you it is all right to leave the burlap or the wire basket on the root ball.  It is not only not right, leaving any covering on that root ball when its planted can lead to serious problems all the years of the tree’s life. 


Bare Naked Roots – Many sources tell us to handle the root ball with care so we don’t lose any of the soil the root ball contains.  Not true warns our myth buster.  Whether your tree came in a container or is balled and burlaped, it is better to carefully take the dirt away from the roots and plant the tree as a bare root plant.  This way you can straighten out the curled roots and cut away any bad roots before you plant. Experience and research indicate the roots grow more vigorously when planted this way.


Save The Food Till Later – There is no more confusion on this issue.  The rule is, in all cases, do not even think about adding some fertilizer, compost, peat moss, or whatever to the hole before you plant.  What came out of the hole goes back in to the hole.  The amendments are placed on the soil surface to work their way down slowly. 


Finish The Job – Don’t stomp down on the soil as you plant the tree; use your hands to firm it up. Finally, no less nor more than 4 inches of organic mulch should be set out at least two feet from the tree’s stem, but not touching the stem.  Keep that 4 inch level 24/7 until you move.











Soil Amendments in hole


Size of hole


Landscape fabric


Top pruning new plantings



The next best planting time is late winter or early spring while trees are still dormant, but the soil is free of frost and dried out from melt and spring rains. These times are best because the cool seasons are when root growth is most active.

The best time for planting evergreen trees is also in late winter or early spring, although needled evergreens can also be planted in the fall when wind is typically less severe. Since their foliage is already in place, and they add or replace only a fraction of it each spring, they have energy available for root growth during all the cool months.

Plant containerized trees anytime the soil is not frozen or it is not terribly hot. Since their roots are already established in the soil in the container, they have the least adjustment to make in their new site.


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