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How to Plant a Tree

Planting a tree seems like an easy task, but there is a process involved from start to finish. To give your tree a good chance for success, follow these simple step-by-step instructions.

Use Stakes for Transplanted Trees

Materials Needed:

  • tree to plant
  • spade or sod cutter
  • round shovel
  • hard rake
  • garden hose
  • scissors or knife (optional)
  • compost or compost manure

Locate a Spot for the Tree

Regardless if you select a short- or long-lived tree, you'll be stuck with this tree for a few years at least. So pick a planting site that is clear of power lines and has room to grow upward and outward. For example, don't plant the majestic oak right next to the house; instead plant it further away from the house so it has a chance to be a full-grown specimen.

Select a Tree

Assess the site conditions, such as USDA hardiness zone, sun vs. shade, moderate vs. boggy soil, near power lines and more. These conditions will play a factor in identifying what is the ideal tree for the site. If you're not sure, consult a landscape professional at your local garden center.

Prepare the Site

If the planting site is in the middle of a garden bed, remove or transplant existing plants to another location and rake the soil smooth. However, if the planting site is in the middle of a lawn, it may be best to remove the sod with a spade or sod cutter. Using a garden hose as your marker, draw a circular outline in the grass with at least a three-foot radius from the center of where the tree will be. Then remove the sod within the perimeter of the garden hose. You can save the sod and reuse in another part of the yard. Use the hard rake to break up any soil clods or remove small clumps of sod.

Prepare Land to Plant

Water the Tree's Root Ball

To ease your tree into the transplanting process, make sure that it is well-watered ahead of time, especially for trees that are balled and burlapped or bare root. When roots are exposed to air, they can dry out. Tip: Dry roots equal dead roots, so give the tree some water to ensure a healthy life.

Dig the Hole

Once the site has been prepped and the tree is well watered and ready to planted, it's time to dig the hole. The hole doesn't need to be very deep, so that about two-thirds of the root ball will be under the soil surface. However, the hole does need to be fairly wide, roughly twice the diameter of the root ball. Dig a saucer shape planting hole that is shallow and wide.

Dig a Hole for Planting

Loosen the Subsoil

This helps give the tree's roots an opportunity to move more freely into the surrounding soil. Simply use a shovel to score, or loosen, the soil along the walls of the freshly dug hole.

Place Tree in Hole

Remove the tree from its pot or lining and place it in the hole. Backfill the hole, gently tamping the soil firmly into place around the sides of the root ball to remove air pockets. Make sure the tree is centered and vertical – not leaning.

  • Cut Wrapping on Tree Root Ball
  • Secure Tree Root Ball

Water the Tree

Now that the tree is in its new home, it needs water. Set the garden hose on a slow trickle, which will periodically need to be repositioned around the root ball to ensure even watering.

Water Newly Planted Trees

Mulch

Add a three-inch layer of mulch around the base of the tree. Make sure the mulch doesn't sit at the trunk of the tree; brush away any soil or mulch from the flare of the tree trunk.

  • Mulch Newly Planted Trees
  • Hand Pat Mulch

Check on Tree Regularly

The most critical point in a new tree's survival is the first few weeks after transplanting. Make sure to give your new tree a good drink of water regularly. If any branches are broken or are crossing or rubbing other branches, prune them away.

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