Tree Planting Guide
We want to help your tree planting experience be as smooth and easy as possible. There are some things you should know before planting your tree, especially if this is your first time. These considerations will help you make good tree planting decisions to ensure your tree gets off on the right foot!
Start with this question:
Is your tree a container tree?
Is your tree a ball and burlap (B&B) tree?
Q: What's the difference?
A: Container trees are grown in a nursery pot and B&B trees are grown in the ground at a tree farm and are then removed from the ground with the root balls intact when they're ready to be planted in a permanent location. Each tree type has slightly varying methods of planting, so keep reading for more details!
If you're planting a container tree, follow these steps:
Step 1 Take the tree out of the container, carefully, by laying it down and gently wriggling it and tapping the container until it’s loose, and then pulling it out horizontally. Try to keep the soil containing the root ball intact. Inspect the roots to see if the tree appears to be root bound, which happens often with container trees.
Step 2 If there are roots that are wrapping and getting tangled with other roots, prune them back to where they begin to circle the root ball. For severe cases, using a clean knife, you can make an “X” shape across the bottom of the root ball, and follow the “X” up the sides of the root ball.
Step 3 Carefully remove any soil above the root flare to indicate the depth that your hole needs to be. The root flare is where the trunk ends and the root system begins.
Step 4 After thoughtful consideration of where to plant your tree (our Right Tree, Right Place guide is coming soon), measure the root ball from top to bottom and dig a hole of equal depth. However, the width of the hole should be 2-3 times the width of the root ball. If the soil is very compact on the sides of the hole, you can score it with a trowel of the edge of your shovel to help loosen the soil. This will help encourage root growth.
Step 5 Lift the tree by the root ball and place it in the center of the hole. After ensuring that the root flare is level with the top of the hole, fill the rest of the hole in with the soil you dug out and lightly compress to ensure the tree is stabilized as you’re filling it in. Make sure the backfill is level with the top of the hole and ground surface.
Step 6 Thoroughly water in your tree immediately after planting! A good rule of thumb is 2-3 gallons of water per inch of the trunk diameter.
If you're planting a B&B tree, follow these steps:
Step 1 Because your tree was grown in the ground and was removed and wrapped so it could get to you, you’ll first need to remove any material containing the root ball. This includes the burlap, and any material used to secure the burlap, like wiring.
Step 2 Any extra soil above the root flare can be carefully removed. Be gentle when doing this, because you want the soil containing the root ball to stay intact. If the root ball is very dry, you can carefully water it to help it absorb moisture once it’s watered after being planted.
Step 3 Following the same process indicated for a container tree, dig a hole the same depth of the root ball, but 2-3 times the width.
Step 4 Use the cut-away burlap to lift the tree and to keep the integrity of the root ball. Place it in the middle of the hole and carefully rock the tree to one side to free the burlap without damaging the root ball.
Step 5 Follow the same fill-in and watering procedure indicated in the container tree instructions!
Other considerations for your newly planted tree:
Mulching your newly planted tree has many benefits including:
Suppressing weed and grass growth
Retaining moisture in soil underneath
Insulating root system from extreme hot and cold weather
Fertilizing and providing nutrients to the tree
Protecting trees from mower and weed-whip damage
But, you can have too much of a good thing! Mulch should be between 2 and 4 inches thick, and in a donut-like shape the directs water towards the roots and not away from them. Avoid volcano mulching, which can cause a trunk rot and make a tree more susceptible to pests, diseases, and pathogens. Mulch should be at least 3 inches away from the trunk, and should expand 2 to 3 feet in radius around the tree.
Did the tree you planted have a small root ball, especially in proportion the tree crown? If so, you should consider staking your tree.
Staking your newly planted tree can give it support it needs to ensure it stays straight and effectively establishes strong roots in the soil. To properly stake your tree, place 2-3 stakes in the ground 1.5 feet away from the tree. The stakes should be at the height of the tree where it needs the most steadying. Use your choice of material (recommend using a soft, stretchy material that's preferably flat, too, versus rounded materials like rope or wire, to avoid girdling) to attach the tree to the stakes, but ensure there is some give to allow the tree to sway. The stakes should be removed the following growing season (~6 months), and should not be left on for longer than a year at most -- alternatively, check your tree frequently and remove the stakes once it feels stable.
Although mulching can help suppress weeds, you might find some occasional weed growth within your mulch circle. It's important to pull weeds as they pop up, because weeds can compete with your tree for water and nutrients, and lead to poor tree health.
Always hand-weed around your tree to avoid potentially damaging your tree with a mower or weed-trimmer. To avoid too much disturbance of your mulch, pull weeds when the mulch is damp, not wet or dry. Consider composting or trashing your weeds in a garbage bag to avoid spreading them, especially if they are invasive (learn more above invasive plant species at Monroe County Identify and Reduce Invasive Species). Additionally, you can prevent the spread of weeds by pulling them before they flower and spread seeds.