What You Need to Know about Planting a Tree

What You Need to Know about Planting a Tree

Planting a tree is one of the best things you can do for your home. Trees not only provide beauty, shade, and cleaner air, they also boost curb appeal and can add significant value to your property. Best of all, tree planting is a fairly straightforward process as long as you follow a few simple steps. Read on for a look at the top “do’s and don’ts” of planting a tree in your yard.

DO choose your tree carefully.

When it comes to choosing a tree, there are a number of factors you’ll need to think about. To ensure the tree will thrive in its new home, it’s usually best to choose a native species that is suitable for the climate, light, soil, and moisture conditions of your area. Don’t forget to think about the shape, height, and size the tree will reach at maturity so that you can choose the right location for it in your yard. Finally, consider what role you’d like the tree to play in your landscape. For example, if you want to establish shade relatively quickly, a fast-growing tree is a better option than one with a slower growth rate.

DON’T plant in the summer.

Home gardens are in full bloom during the summer months, but this isn’t a good time to plant trees as the hot temperatures and relatively dry conditions can cause the tree too much stress. Fall is usually the best time for tree planting: the cooler weather and increased rainfall help the tree get established more effectively, and the root system then has all winter to develop. Trees can also be planted in early spring as soon as the danger of frost is over.

DO check up on your utilities.

Before you start digging, make sure you check up on the location of underground utilities on your property: the last thing you want is to accidentally hit a buried cable or pipe! You can call your utilities provider or your local municipality for more details. You’ll also want to be careful not to plant tall-growing trees too close to any overhead utility lines.

DON’T dig too deep.

Did you know that the most common reason why trees or large shrubs don’t survive is that they were planted too deep? When you’re preparing the planting spot for your tree, you only need to dig as deep as the root ball. The rule of thumb is that when the tree is sitting in the hole, the spot where the roots join the trunk or main stem (known as the root collar) should be level with or slightly above the grade of the soil around it. However, you do want your hole to be about two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball, as the roots will be able to penetrate more effectively into looser surrounding soil.

DO be gentle when planting.

Handle your tree with care when you’re planting. If your tree is in a container, slide it gently out of the pot and into the hole; if the roots are covered in burlap, place the root ball into the hole, then carefully cut away the wrappings. Try to disturb the root ball as little as possible so the entire mass remains intact. When you’re replacing soil in the hole (a process called “backfilling”), there’s no need to pack the soil; simply shovel it on loosely and gently tamp it down.

DON’T add amendments to your backfill.

Speaking of backfilling, conventional gardening wisdom has long been to add amendments—such as fertilizer, peat moss, or manure—to the soil you use to fill up the hole around your tree’s roots. Believe it or not, however, this can actually prevent the roots from spreading out into the surrounding native soil. Today, it’s considered best practice not to add anything to the backfill soil, in order to encourage the roots to push outwards from the planting hole. 

DO water well.

Immediately after planting, water the tree slowly and deeply. To help water stay concentrated around the roots, you can make a ridge of soil around the outer edge of the planting hole: this will help hold the water over the root system and allow it to filter gradually into the soil below. After this first watering, you’ll want to keep the roots properly moist: they should never be dried out, nor completely waterlogged. Test the soil a few inches away from the root ball with your finger, and water if the soil feels dry to the touch. Depending on the type of tree, you may need to water as often as every day or every other day during the first few weeks after planting.

DON’T stake unless necessary.

Despite what you may have heard, trees don’t always need to be staked when they are first planted; in fact, research has shown that newly planted trees that are not staked tend to develop stronger root systems. A tree that is sturdy enough to stand upright on its own doesn’t need to be staked, even if it has a slender trunk. You really only need to stake your tree if it is planted in shallow soil, or if it will be consistently exposed to high winds. In these cases, use two stakes only, and remove them after the first year.