A Quick Guide to Tree Planting

The following is an abridged version of the Plant Care Guide from the PennState Extension site.

1.Choose the Right Time

The ideal time to plant a tree is in early spring or early fall, when the days are short, temperatures are cool, and the soil is moist.

2. Examine the Soil and Dig the Hole

Rich and well drained soils: In these soils the hole needs to be wide enough for the tree to have space to shift and get properly oriented. This should be about 6 inches wider than the sides of the root ball.

Hard to dig, rocky soils: Dig a hole that is 2-4 times the diameter of the root ball

Sticky, clay soils: Dig a hole that is 4 times the diameter of the root ball. Make sure to compress the sides of the hole with the shovel.

Always scratch the sides of the hole with your shovel to promote root growth

  • Do not make the planting hole deeper than the depth of the root system: you want the root flare (where the trunk widens out just above the first roots) to be level with the surrounding soil.
  • Make sure the tree or shrub is sitting on solid soil at the bottom of the hole.
  • Never bend or twist roots to fit the hole. Instead, prune the root to fit the hole or make the hole larger
  • If the soil is of poor quality (contains lots of clay or clumps or is sandy) consider adding some organic matter to the backfill soil (the soil you dug out to make the hole) in a 1:3 ratio.

3. Prepare the Tree

  • Check the roots and trim any damaged ones, making a clean cut
  • Make several vertical cuts in the sides of the root ball and an X-shaped cut across the bottom with a sharp knife.
  • If the root system is dense, gently squeeze the root ball and pull out some of the roots to encourage their outward growth.

4. Plant

  • Remove any plastic burlap or wire basket that may be around the root ball. With the wire basket, leave the bottom part in place to protect the root ball.
  • Set the tree in the hole and make sure it is upright and correctly positioned
  • Set a small amount of backfill around the bottom of the root ball to stabilize the tree
  • Add more backfill and tap it down with your foot until it is about half full
  • Add some water to the soil to remove any large air pockets
  • Finish filling the hole and make sure the top layer is firm around the sides of the root system.
  • Make a slightly raised ridge around the edge of the hole to prevent water from running off. You can remove this raised ridge after a few months.

5. Stake

*Only add stakes if needed. For example, if the tree is planted on a slope or in a windy location, it might need temporary support.

*Use a biodegradable cloth or flexible tie to loosely attach the tree to the stake

For trees with trunks under 2 inches in diameter: support the tree with a single two-by-four wooden stake that extends up to the first set of branches.

For trees with trunks larger than 2 inches in diameter: Use 2 to 3 stakes spaced evenly around the tree.

*Always remove stakes after the first year.

6. Mulch and Care

Mulch: Add 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch over the root zone. Keep the mulch pulled away from the trunk.

Prune: Prune any branches that are broken, diseased, or crossed. Make sure that you get the specific pruning information for the type of tree you have planted to ensure you shape it into a strong and attractive specimen as it grows.

Water: In the first year, water the tree weekly, except during weeks that it rains enough to wet the top six inches of the soil. Make sure to completely soak the soil when you water. Water only when the soil under the surface is dry to the touch.