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How To Plant a Tree

how to plant a dogwood treePlanting trees is a fun and easy activity to do with your friends and family. When you plant trees on your property, you can add a lot of beauty and value to your landscape. While planting a tree can seem like a very simple task, there are many rules that you need to follow to ensure that your tree and landscape thrives.

Read this post to learn how to properly plant a tree so that it can grow and stay healthy for years to come.

Research and Placement

Always research the type of tree that you would like to plant before planting. Different species can grow to unwanted sizes, send out roots that damage concrete and landscaping, or drop leaves and needles that damage roofs and patios.

plant tree stakes backyardWhen choosing where to plant your new tree, there are several things to consider. First, make sure that your tree will not be placed too close to your home’s foundation or concrete structures. Generally, a space of 10 feet or more should be between any structure and your tree. Also, make sure to check with your State Utility Center to make sure that you won’t accidentally sever any dangerous electrical or water pipes on your property.

Consult your local nursery or arborist if you ever have questions about which type of tree to buy and where on your property to place it.

When To Plant

Different types of trees prefer to be planted throughout different seasons. Generally trees should be planted early or in the middle of spring or early to mid-fall. Avoid planting trees during the middle of summer because the heat and dryness can stress and kill a young tree.

Digging Your Hole

The depth and width of your hole is very important. If a tree is planted too deeply, the roots will have trouble absorbing oxygen and water through the top layers of soil. If a hole isn’t wide enough, the soil around the root ball will be too compacted to facilitate root growth.

Dig your hole at least 3-4 times as wide as the root ball of the tree. The depth of the hole should be slightly less than the height of the root ball. The ‘flare’ or collar of the tree where the base of the trunk begins to widen into the root structure should eventually sit just above the level of soil after the tree is fully planted.

Make sure not to compact the soil around the edges and bottom of your hole. Even using your shovel to loosen the surrounding dirt can assist the flow of water and root growth for your new tree.

plant tree remove containerRemoving the Container

When you’re removing the tree from the container, be gentle but firm. Do not to pull the tree out by the trunk as this can hurt the entire root structure of the tree. Lay the tree on its side and tap and squeeze the container to loosen the soil. Gently slide the container off of the root ball of the tree. Cutting the container on both sides with a short blade (1-2 inches) can also help the removal process.

Separating the Roots

Depending upon how your tree was grown and how old it is, the roots may have formed to the shape of the burlap or plastic container. It is crucial that the roots of the young tree are not curling, twisted in circles, or bound around the tree. These types of roots will eventually expand and twist around themselves, essentially strangling or ‘girdling’ the roots of the tree and slowly killing it.

If the roots look ‘pot bound’ and twisted, use a short razor knife (1-2 inches) to make 4-6 cuts down the side and several cuts on the bottom of the root ball. This will cut and loosen twisted roots and force the tree to send out new roots in all directions helping it create an even and widespread root base.

Also, make sure to remove any stakes, ropes, and burlap from the tree before planting. These will inhibit root and tree growth.

Placing the Tree

Once the tree is prepared, place it in the center of your hole. Now is the time to align the branches and ‘pretty’ side of the tree to the main view point before you have fully planted it. Adjust the tree by the root ball, not by holding the trunk.

Make sure the top inch of the root ball is above the soil level and exposed. Place soil under the tree to slightly raise the level if needed. Once the root ball is in position use the soil you removed to fill in your hole. If your soil is mainly clay or particularly low-quality, you can use organic compost and other soil amenders to improve the quality. Avoid using heavy fertilizers and chemicals that can burn or kill a young tree.

After the hole is completely filled in, lightly tamp down the soil around the roots to stabilize the tree.

Creating a Berm and Mulching

plant tree mulch bermCreating a water basin or berm around the base of your tree will fight soil erosion and hold water where the roots can absorb it. Make a 3 foot diameter circular berm about 3 inches tall around your tree. Make sure not to cover the trunk or flare of the tree.

Once you have created the berm, cover the entire planting area with 3-4 inches of mulch. Taking care to keep the mulch at least 2 inches from the trunk of the tree. Read our previous post for proper mulching techniques.


Finally you will want to water your newly planted tree. Give your tree about 5-10 gallons of water to begin with to help settle the soil and stimulate root growth. Water your tree daily for about two weeks and then every other day for about two months. Eventually you can water your tree once a week until it is completely established.

Now that you have successfully planted your tree, make sure to water, prune, and care for it properly throughout its entire life. Spending several hours a month caring for your tree will ensure that you have a healthy tree that will give add shade and beauty to your home.

If you ever have any questions or concerns about planting a tree, don’t hesitate to contact your local arborist or the professionals at Northwest Arbor-Culture Inc. We have over 30 years of experience caring for trees and landscapes and can help you with any tree care need.

Have you ever planted a tree? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

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