How to Plant a Tree
Planting a tree correctly is the first step to establishing, growing, and having a healthy tree. Follow our steps to plant a tree successfully. The steps below are for a tree in a container. There are other methods for bare-root and burlap-wrapped trees.
When Is the Best Time to Plant a Tree?
The time of year to plant a tree is not the spring which most people assume. In the spring, garden centers are full of plants, and everyone is eager to get outside after being cooped up all winter.
Fall is the optimal season for planting a tree. Let’s explore the reasons why.
Why the Fall?
Temperatures are cooler in the fall. The cooler temperatures slow the loss of moisture from the leaves of the trees. Fall frequently provides rain for the trees to get established. The trees don’t experience as much transplantation shock as they do the rest of the year.
Planting trees in the fall reduces the stress a tree has to undertake when planted at other times of the year. Trees are entering their dormancy period. Energy moves from the leaves to the roots during this time. Roots store this energy for the season ahead and continue to develop before the ground freezes.
Ideal Soil Temperature
During the fall, the soil is still warm from the hot summer days. In the spring, the ground begins to warm from the freezing temperatures of the winter. Having warm soil provides the tree roots with the needed temperatures for growth.
Things to Consider Before Planting
Size of Tree
Make sure to choose a location suitable for the tree. Take into consideration the full height and width of the tree at maturity. For example, you plan to plant a sugar maple. Because a sugar maple can grow to 75 feet and get 50 feet wide, you don’t plant it next to your house or under power lines. It belongs in a place where it can reach maximum height and width without unnecessary pruning.
Needs of the Tree
Also, take into consideration whether a tree needs full sun, part shade, or full shade. Planting a tree needing full sun in full shade only puts unnecessary stress on the tree.
How to Plant a Containerized Tree
Digging the Hole
Start by placing the tree in its desired location. Use your shovel to create an outline three to four times larger than the diameter of the pot. Another way to think about it is to dig a quarter-size hole for a nickel-size container. Remove the tree, and dig the hole.
Once you believe the hole is deep enough, place the tree in the hole and check for depth. The hole depth and the top of the root ball should be the same.
Break up any dirt clumps and remove any rocks from the bottom of the hole. Pat down the soil to give the tree a firm base to sit on. This firm base prevents the tree from settling.
Removing the Tree from the Container
Gently remove the tree from the container. Do not yank or force the tree out. This forcing can damage the roots. If needed, roll the container on its side on the ground while pressing on the pot. The tree should lift out. Try to keep the soil intake.
You may find the tree root-bound. Becoming root-bound occurs when the tree has been growing in the container too long. If this happens, cut the container to remove it from the root ball.
With your hands, break apart the roots. Sometimes a tree is so root-bound, you need to use a tool to help break the roots loose.
Breaking up the roots prevents root girdling. Girdling occurs when a root grows in a circular pattern around the root ball or trunk of the tree. This girdling of the roots can strangle the tree leaving it unable to get nutrients.
Planting the Tree
Place the tree in the center of the hole, ensuring the most attractive side is seen. Begin filling the hole with dirt while holding the tree in place. Packing soil around the root ball secures it. Continue covering the roots with the original soil from the hole.
Every four to five inches, tamp the soil with your hand, foot, or shovel. This tamping packs the soil around the tree evenly.
Cover the roots until the dirt reaches just right below the root collar, where the roots join the main trunk. The root collar is typically where the trunk begins to flare outward. A tree planted too deep is susceptible to disease and insect damage.
Making a Bird’s Nest
A bird’s nest is the term for the basin created with the dirt around the tree. It looks like a bird’s nest, hence its name. Form a ring with the soil around the tree. This ring prevents water from running off the roots and away from the tree.
Watering the Tree
Fill the bird’s nest up with water until it is almost overflowing. Then allow the ground to soak in the water thoroughly. After mulching, check the soil moisture every few days to learn how fast your soil dries out. If the soil feels moist, you don’t need to add water. Once the soil feels dry, you need to give the tree a good soaking of water. Making sure the soil does not dry out is especially important during the hot summer months.
Place mulch around the base of the tree. The mulch should only be three to four inches deep. Do NOT put mulch up against the trunk. Again, make a bird’s nest around the tree to accommodate watering.
Now sit back and admire! This tree has a great start to life in your yard.
Our video takes you step-by-step through the tree planting process.
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How to Plant a Tree
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I have over 30 years of experience in the horticulture and landscaping field. Sharing my knowledge of all this plant-related is a passion of mine. I also enjoy spending time outdoors, whether hiking, canoeing, or sitting by a campfire.