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tree root ball next to hole in the ground

How To
Plant a Tree

10 Steps to Planting a Tree

Click on each number to get to the next step.

Step 1

Know what you want to plant. Evergreen trees do not shed their leaves in the winter, but stay green-year round, while deciduous trees seasonally shed their leaves. It's important to ask yourself.
  • How large do you want the tree to get?
  • Do you want it to be evergreen or deciduous?
  • What's its purpose? Shade, privacy or decoration?
  • Do you want it to flower?
  • Do you want to attract birds/butterflies?
a white park bench sitting in the grass

Step 2

Know the location & light. Before planting any tree it is important to know its overall height and width once its reaches maturity. Then you can determine the proper location. If you don't know a tree's mature size, you could create problems in the future by planting too close to your home's foundation, power lines, underground pipes, or sidewalks. Also consider the location's sun exposure and know your tree's light requirements. Does it need full sun or can it tolerate some shade? Will the sunlight be blocked by existing tall trees or buildings?
trees in front of a house

Step 3

Remove weeds. If the spot you've chosen hasn't been cultivated, you'll need to remove any grass, weeds, and weed roots in the soil where you will be planting your tree. Measure the pot your tree is in or its root ball; cultivate a space that is 3-6 times wider than the root ball.
tree in a pot about to be planted in the ground

Step 4

Amend the soil and dig a hole. This is the most important step. Spend time making a nice big "bed" for the tree to thrive in. Incorporate Pike Planting Mix at a 50/50 ratio with the native soil. Our native clay soil does not drain well because it is too compact. Amending provides nutrients and breaks it up for better drainage, aeration, and allows tender new roots to easily grow. Dig a hole about 3 times as wide as the tree's root ball, but make sure the hole is no deeper than the plant's previous environment.
a shovel laying on top of a hole in the ground

Step 5

Massage the roots. Take the root ball out of its original container and take a look at the root system. If they are densely bound in a circular pattern or have started growing in the shape of the container, it's important to break up the pattern. Planting a root bound plant makes it difficult for the plant to take up water because its roots are so tightly wound. It may feel like you are damaging the roots while breaking them up, but don't worry. It is better to give the roots a fresh start than continuing to constrict them.
a person planting a tree

Step 6

Place the tree and back fill. Once the roots are separated, place the tree's root ball in the hole and back fill around the root ball with the amended soil. To avoid settling later, eliminate air pockets by lightly tamping the soil around the plant roots to ensure good soil to root contact.
people planting a tree

Step 7

Water immediately. Water thoroughly right after planting and again a few hours later. A deep water is best to build a better root system and ensure a strong, healthy plant.
boy watering a newly planted tree

Step 8

Lay weed barrier and mulch. If desired, you can lay landscaping fabric over top the freshly tilled soil to prevent weeds from growing. Be sure to use the mesh breathable type of weed barrier (not plastic) so water can drain through and get to the tree's roots. Then, add a 3 inch layer of mulch to help retain moisture and insulate roots near the surface. Be sure to cover a wide area around the base to reduce competition from weeds and grass, but do not pile mulch up against the trunk.
man putting mulch around a tree

Step 9

Establish a watering schedule. The most important job after planting is to keep your tree watered thoroughly until its root system is fully established. Frequent, deep waterings reduce transplant shock and encourage roots to grow down into the soil. Deep roots = stronger tree. How much water a newly planted tree needs can vary, but a good rule of thumb is to provide 10 gallons of water per week for every 1 inch of tree caliper. The best way to do this is to provide a lot of water, slowly, at one time. Frequent, shallow watering (like with a sprinkler) is not effective because the water doesn't get deep enough into the soil to encourage proper root development.

Make thing easy on yourself by establishing a watering schedule, and use handy tools like a watering bag (pictured) or a soaker hose paired with a timer on your faucet. A watering bag can be filled about once a week and slowly, evenly provides enough moisture right at the root ball. On average, proper establishment of a new tree can take 1 year for every 1 inch of the trunk's caliper (diameter). So you may need to continue providing supplemental water for multiple growing seasons. You can gradually reduce supplemental watering every few months until the roots are established. Remember - supplemental watering may not be necessary during rainy seasons, or you may need to provide extra water during an extended dry period.

water bag around a tree trunk

Step 10

Wait to fertilize. Fertilizing too early could cause undue stress on plants that don't need to be exerting extra energy to put on new growth. For newly planted trees all energy should be concentrated on root development. After establishment, you can fertilize 2 to 3 times each year, per recommendations for your specific type of tree.
person pushing a spreader fertilizing grass and trees

Shopping List

  • Tree of your choice
  • Pike Planting Mix
  • Shovel
  • Water bag or soaker hose & faucet timer