Got Two Hours? Plant a Tree

There's planting a tree, and then there's planting a tree well. The former may put your efforts at risk, while the latter will reward you with years of healthy growth. Here, we teach you how to plant a tree so it'll last.

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Garden CornerEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

A well-planted tree will reward you with years of healthy growth. Container-grown trees can be planted at most times of the year, but the best time is in the fall, when the leaves are starting to drop. Bare-root plants are a cheaper option and are available in fall and winter. Unless it's very frosty or there’s been a long dry spell, you should plant them as soon as you get them home. Planting a tree should take you around two hours.

In small- to medium-sized yards, choose compact trees. Hawthorn, pictured above, is ideal, with pretty, pink blossom in spring, followed by ornamental fruits.

Materials Needed:

  • bucket
  • spade and border fork
  • well-decomposed organic matter
  • bamboo cane
  • tree stake
  • mallet and nails
  • tree tie with spacer
  • bark chips

Prepping a Container-Grown Tree

Stand the tree in its pot in a bucket of water and leave it to soak (image 1). Meanwhile, clear the area of weeds. Place the tree, still in its pot, in its planting position, making sure it won’t be crowded by other plants.

Fork over the soil, working in plenty of bulky organic matter, such as well-decomposed manure or compost. Dig a round planting hole that's twice the diameter of the pot and a little deeper than the root ball (image 2).

Puncture and scuff up the walls and base of the hole to allow for easy root penetration; the result will be a stronger tree (image 3). Don't loosen the base too much, or else the tree may sink after planting.

Remove the tree from its pot and lower it into the hole to check the planting depth. Using a bamboo cane as a guide, the tree should go in at the same depth that it was in its container (image 4).


With container-grown plants, gently tease out any encircling roots as these could strangle the tree and prevent healthy growth (image 1). If the tree is very pot-bound, cut away some roots with pruning shears.

With a helper holding the tree upright, backfill the hole with the excavated soil (image 2). Make sure there are no air pockets by working the soil in between the roots and around the root ball with your fingers.

Once you are satisfied that there are no gaps or air pockets around the roots, continue to hold the tree upright and firm it in using your foot with your toes pointing toward the trunk (image 3).


To prevent the tree from moving too much in the wind, which can damage roots (a problem known as wind rock), drive in a wooden tree stake at 45 degree angle (image 1). Be careful to avoid damaging the root ball.

Make sure that the end of the stake faces into the prevailing wind. Fit a tree tie with a spacer a third of the way up the trunk from the base (image 2). This can be adjusted as the tree grows.

Using the mallet, ,knock a nail through the tree tie into the stake to prevent it slipping down. Water the tree thoroughly and apply a moisture-conserving bark mulch, keeping it away from the trunk (image 3).

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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