There are several steps involved with planting a tree. If followed properly, these steps greatly increase your tree's chances of thriving. Remember, before you dig call your utility locate. (click here for Digger's Hotline)

Planting a Tree

  1. Dig an adequate-sized planting hole. The hole you plant your tree in should be broad and shallow. It should be as deep as the root ball and three times as wide as the root ball. The hole is wider than it is deep because the tree's root system will establish itself by growing outward, rather than down. Avoid mechanical augers, especially in clay soils, as they create smooth "planes" in the hole. These planes restrict root growth and may also restrict drainage.
  2. Prepare the tree. Trees are typically sold either "balled and burlapped" or bare root. If the tree is balled and burlapped (with the roots and soil wrapped in burlap), you will need to remove the burlap and metal cage from around the top two-thirds of the root ball so the roots are not restricted. If necessary, remove enough soil so the trunk flare is visible. The trunk flare is the area at the base of the tree where the roots begin spreading. It is also important to locate the topmost roots in the root ball.
  3. Place the tree in the planting hole at the proper depth. The trunk flare should sit just above ground level, and the topmost roots should sit one or two inches below ground level. You should also make sure the tree sits straight in the planting hole.
  4. Begin filling the planting hole with soil. When the hole is approximately one-third full, gently pack the soil around the root ball. After this, continue to fill the planting hole, stopping every few inches to settle the soil with water.
  5. Stake the tree, if necessary. Newly planted trees may need to be staked to prevent damage or uprooting. Use two stakes anchored outside the planting hole to prevent root injury. The material used to tie the tree to the stakes should be flexible to prevent it from damaging the trunk. Stakes and tying material must be removed after approximately one year.
  6. Place a two to four inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark or wood chips, around the base of the tree. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and moderate soil temperature. It also reduces grass and weed competition and adds nutrient-rich organic matter to the soil.
  7. Provide follow-up care. You should keep the soil around your newly planted tree moist, but not saturated. If you overwater, the tree's roots will rot and die back from lack of oxygen. The tree's leaves may also turn yellow or fall off. Typically, it is sufficient to water once a week, possibly more often under hot, dry conditions.

For more information on how to plant a tree, consult the publications below, or contact your local extension forester or arborist.