Tree Care

How to Plant a Tree

Planting a tree correctly is not as simple as just remembering the phrase “green side up, dirt side down.” Using the correct planting techniques can help give your tree a great chance to reach maturity, while planting incorrectly can cause a young tree to struggle or die in only a few years. By spending an extra few minutes during the planting process, we can prolong a tree's life by decades.

Whether your tree is balled and burlaped or in a container, the first step in planting is to locate the root collar, the area where the trunk flares out to the roots. Often, this flare may be several inches deep in the root ball or container, and the fill soil above the collar must be removed.

After finding the root collar, remove any excess soil or planting mix from the root ball and gently tease out any roots that may be growing in circles around the root ball or trunk. This simple step can prevent future problems related to girdling roots.

Dig the planting hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball, and slightly less deep than the height of the root ball. It is better to plant too shallow than too deep. Make sure the trees root collar is slightly higher than the natural grade of the surrounding soil.

Backfill the planting hole with the native soil. If additional soil is needed, try to use soil from another part of the site. Gently tamp or water the soil so it will settle. It is usually not necessary to amend the backfill soil for trees, and may be counterproductive. If soil compaction is a problem on the site, consider tilling the soil or digging a wider (not deeper) planting hole.

If necessary, stake the tree by gently attaching it to a post. The stake and tie should be loose enough that the tree can sway in the wind, a loose loop of nylon webbing works well. If a tree is staked too tightly it will not develop natural taper and may also be damaged or girdled. Stakes should be removed after one growing season.

Mulch the rooting area three to four inches deep, making sure the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree, and water the tree again. At this time, consider pruning to remove only dead or broken branches. Additional structural pruning should wait until the next season.

Water one inch per week, or about five gallons per inch of the trees trunk caliper.