How to Grow: Plant a Tree

Learn how to plant your tree in this step by step process including how to dig the hole, placing the tree in the hole, watering the tree, and mulching the tree.


Hi I’m Charlie Nardzzi of the National Gardening Association. Today I’d like to talk to you about how to plant trees and shrubs. Fall is the perfect time to plant deciduous trees and shrubs in most parts of the country. The cool air and short days stimulate the leaves to drop, but the warm soil provide great conditions for tree roots to grow. By  planting in fall your tree or shrub will have the winter and spring to get itself established before the heat and the drought of next summer.

Consider the sun, soil, and climatic conditions in your area. Also, consider the role the tree or shrubs are going to play in your yard. A shade tree is going to need a big lawn area to grow and flourish whereas with a smaller tree you might be able to plant it closer to the house or in a perennial flower garden. Also consider multiple seasons of interest from that tree or shrub. You can plant something that gets beautiful flowers in the spring followed by a nice green foliage with some interesting fall foliage colors. There are trees and shrubs that have beautiful berries in the fall and some trees actually have peeling bark that adds some winter interest to your landscape. When you’re planting your tree or shrub don’t plant it too close to a building or structure where the branches and leaves will start rubbing against it. As it gets older also consider the ultimate height of your tree. If you plant a big tree underneath some power lines, ultimately as it grows you’re going to have to prune in deform it and that’s not going to look good in the landscape.

When you go to a garden center or nursery you’ll find plants in plastic pots or balled in burlap. There are advantages and disadvantages of each. Plastic pots tend to be lightweight and easy to move around, but they have a small soil mass so the roots can dry out fast. They can get rootbound easily. They’re good for smaller trees and shrubs. In general, balled and burlap trees have more soil so the roots love to grow in there. But they’re bulky and heavy and hard to move around. You see them used on larger trees and shrubs. Whatever tree or shrub you buy planting them is basically the same. Here’s how.

I’ve just dug my hole two to three times as wide as the root ball. Now I’m going to take an iron fork and actually loosen up the soil in the hole so that the roots can penetrate into the native soil. Once the soil is all loose I’m going to check the depth of my root ball. When planting a balled in burlap tree be sure to remove the burlap before planting. This looks like about the right height. If I had a real heavy clay soil I might want to plant it a little bit higher up so it doesn’t drown when it gets really wet. Normally it should be this height. Next I want to backfill it with about half as much as the native soil that I have here. I don’t want to use compost or fertilizer because that’s just going to keep the roots right inside the hole and not allow them to go into the native soil. Once I’ve got this half filled, I want to fill it up with some water. You want to put the water in now because that’s going to actually force a lot of the air pockets out of here. You have a better root contact with the soil. Next I want to backfill the rest of the soil right up to the soil line. That it’s. After back filling you want to create a moat around your tree. Just pull the soil back away from the trunk and create this little soil mound all the way around the perimeter. What this will do is that any time it rains or you water the moisture will actually soak down in where the root ball is. It will help keep the tree nice and moist.

Finally I want to put a little bark mulch around my tree. This will be good to conserve some moisture and to protect it a little bit in the winter. If you want to put about a two to three inch layer of bark mulch right around the tree, but not right up against the trunk.

So that’s it. We’ve planted our tree. Now a tree this size really doesn’t need to be staked so I’m going to pop this one off that they put in the nursery. So this fall go out and plant the tree and shrub.

Go here for a video on watering new trees


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