How to Plant a Tree

pistachearnold-wa Trees conserve energy, hold soil in place reducing runoff into our watersheds, increase the value of a home and improve the air we breathe. After selecting the type of tree you want in your landscape, follow these tips to provide your tree with the greatest chance of thriving.

Before you select a location
Know the location of underground utilities before you decide where the tree will be located. At least a few days before you start any digging project call 811 and a representative will take your information and notify appropriate utility companies to mark buried lines so you can dig safely around them.

Be sure you have enough space for the tree to grow to maturity. For instance, a tree with a mature trunk of 24-inch diameter will eventually have about a 40-foot wide crown.

Look up. If there are overhead power lines, be sure the mature tree will fit underneath them. If there is a roof, move the tree at least 10-15 feet away from the foundation of the house, even more if it is a large species. Planting a tree in a flower bed next to the foundation may later cause foundation problems.

Preparing to plant the tree

  1. Measure the height of the root ball, and dig the hole 5 to 10 percent less than that and twice the width of the root ball.
  2. If the tree is bare-root, remove the ties and burlap.
  3. Find the top-most root in the root ball. Be sure it is no more than 2” below the top of the soil. You may have to remove soil because nurseries often bury the roots too deeply.
  4. Inspect the root ball for circling or crossed roots. Cut or spread out circling roots.
  5. Lift the tree by the root ball, not by the trunk and set into planting hole.
  6. Position the top root 1 to 2 inches above the planting soil. It will eventually sink to be level.
  7. Straighten the tree and look at it from two sides to ensure it is straight before filling hole with soil.
  8. Fill hole with the native soil. Do not add amendments.

Helping your new tree survive

  • Fill hole with water and allow it to settle.
  • Add 3-4” of mulch in as big a circle as possible. Keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk.
  • Turf and weeds rob trees of nutrients and water. The tree will perform better if it doesn’t have to compete.
  • Do not fertilize at planting.
  • Staking is not necessary unless it is a very windy location. Trees develop trunk strength by blowing in the wind, and staking slows that development process. If stakes are used, remove the stakes in 6 months to one year. If the stakes begin to cut into the bark as the tree grows, remove them immediately.

Care of New Trees
It takes time for a newly planted tree to become established. Establishment involves growing roots to balance the amount of foliage. The reason to plant trees in fall and winter is so that the trees can grow roots while not having to put energy into growing leaves. The roots will continue to grow while the tree is dormant.

A small tree may be fairly well established in 6-8 months, but a large caliper tree may take several years for the roots and foliage to become balanced again. Until then, give your new tree lots of TLC.

Two of the most common problems we see with newly planted trees are (a) the tree is planted too deeply and (b) it is under watered. Both are deadly. The problem with deep planting is that the tree roots need oxygen. Covering them too deeply is like covering your mouth and nose. Oops! If this mistake has already been made, remove some of the soil until you can see the flare.


Figure 1: Normal or correct root flare (Joseph OBrien, USDA Forest Service,


Figure 2: This tree is too deep. Also, the mulch should not be placed against the trunk. (Photo: Luana Vargas,

Water newly planted trees 2 to 3 times a week during establishment. Water 1 to 2 gallons per inch of caliper (diameter) of the trunk. Gradually decrease watering to once a week.

Excellent visual guide to planting new trees.





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