How to plant native trees

How to Choose and Plant a Tree

How to Choose and Plant a Tree

There are many benefits to planting a tree on your property. Trees lower your utility bills by shading your house in the summer and allowing the sun to warm it in the winter. They clean the air and absorb stormwater runoff. Trees help fight climate change, and they’re even linked to better mental health.

To get all the benefits of a tree, you need to make sure you select and plant your tree so that it can thrive. We call this “right tree, right place.”

1. Select the right tree

All trees are different. Decide whether you want a shade tree, a small flowering tree to brighten up a shady corner, a tree that will attract wildlife or something else. You can ask your local arborist, university agricultural extension, botanical garden or plant nursery for tree recommendations. The internet is also a great resource. The USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Tool will tell you what your local planting zone is, though keep in mind that climate change is quickly altering these zones.

You might want to consider planting a tree species that is native to your general region, rather than a species from Asia, Europe or from the other side of the United States. Native trees are adapted to local conditions, and provide essential habitat and food for wildlife like birds and butterflies. You can use a tool like the Audubon Native Plant Database to look up trees that are native to your area.

When you’re ready to buy, call ahead. All garden centers might not carry the tree you want. Specialty nurseries such as native plant nurseries may have a better selection. Or, reach out to your town or city. Some municipalities give out free or inexpensive trees, or have tree rebate programs.

Be careful never to plant invasive trees, including mimosa, tree-of-heaven, Norway maple and black locust. Invasive trees can compromise ecosystems.

Photo Credit: USDA


Be “climate smart” in your tree choice

The earth’s climate is changing rapidly. Some areas will experience more intense droughts. Others will weather more severe storms. Almost everywhere will be hotter. Some tree experts are now recommending that you plant trees that are suited to the climate conditions your area will experience in 30 or 50 years.

Because of this, you may want to choose a tree species that can tolerate higher heat, or more intense droughts. You could also consider a tree species that currently grows at a lower elevation, or several hundred miles to the south of your location.

3. Choose the right spot to plant your tree

Trees have specific requirements for sunlight, soil and climate. A tree that needs full sun will not thrive if you plant it in shade, while another that needs dry soil might die if you plant it in a wet spot.

“Full sun” means at least 6 hours each day of direct sunlight. “Partial shade” means an area receives dappled shade throughout the day, or two to four hours of direct sunlight. “Shade” means two or fewer hours of sun each day.

Make sure that your tree doesn’t cause problems as it grows. Plant trees at least 15 feet away from buildings so there is enough room for roots and branches to reach full size. Make sure that the tree won’t disrupt power lines, sidewalks and other infrastructure as it grows.

Select a site that is far enough from your neighbor’s property that the branches won’t extend into their yard. Or, talk to your neighbor about the benefits of sharing the shade from your tree as it grows.

4. Carefully remove the tree from its sack or container

Do not hold the tree by its trunk, as that can cause the trunk to snap off and kill the tree. If your tree is containerized, hold onto the container and gently slide the tree out.

Do not leave the tree in bright sunlight or hot temperatures before you plant it. Instead, leave it somewhere cool in the shade.

Trees that are kept in containers for too long often have roots that grow in a circling pattern. As these wrap-around roots grow, they can “girdle” or strangle a tree. Use your hands to loosen and tease apart the roots. You can also take a sharp knife and cut an X in the bottom of the root ball to help break up overly compacted roots.

Photo Credit: Brad Latham

5. Prepare the planting site, and plant the tree

Remove grass and other plants in a several-foot radius from the planting hole. Grass can absorb water and nutrients that a young tree needs to thrive.

Dig a hole that’s no deeper than the tree’s container or sack, and three to five times as wide as the size of its container. This helps the roots spread out as they grow, making for a healthier tree.

Gently place the tree in the center of the hole, and backfill the hole with the soil you dug out. When filling your hole with soil, don’t go any higher than the root flare — the spot where the trunk transitions into the roots at the base of the tree. The flare should be exposed and slightly above ground. It’s always better to plant your tree too high than too low.

6. Add mulch

Mulch is great to add after a tree is planted. It looks nice and, more importantly, it helps keep the soil moist. Apply mulch between 2 and 4 inches deep, starting at least four inches from the root flare and working your way outwards.

A common mistake is piling mulch against the trunk of the tree. Although you may have seen trees with thick applications of mulch against the truck and root flare — so-called “mulch volcanoes” — this can actually kill a tree. If mulch touches the tree’s root flare it can invite pests, cause the trunk to rot, or cause the tree’s roots to grow up into the mulch and girdle the tree.

Photo Credit: Sustainable Saratoga

7. Water properly

Trees need more water when they’ve just been planted than when they’re established. For the first two weeks after planting, water the tree every day. For three to 12 weeks after planting, water every two or three days. After that, give the tree plenty of water once a week until it’s established, which usually takes three years. There’s no need to water if there’s been adequate rainfall. Overall, you want the soil to be moist but not soggy.

8. Know when to use fertilizer and other inputs

Fertilizer does not fix all of a tree’s problems, and many trees don’t actually need fertilizer. So long as your tree is growing and its leaves look healthy, it doesn’t need any extra nutrients.

Consult with an arborist if your tree is showing signs of ill health like yellowing or dying leaves. Oftentimes these may be related to other issues, including over- or under-watering, compacted soil, too little sunlight, improper pruning, or pests and disease.

Avoid using pesticides and herbicides. Many of these chemicals are linked to negative health outcomes for people, insects, and birds.  Herbicides intended for weeds can wind up hurting your tree.

Get Involved

There is a lot you can do to ensure that our forests in cities and large landscapes are healthy for generations to come. Be a voice for forests.

Take Action

Support Our Work

Every gift helps American Forests restore forests in cities and large landscapes — for people, wildlife and the planet. Give today and help us protect forests for tomorrow.

Become a Member

Plant a Native Tree for a Greener Future – Wild Seed Project

Creating Canopy: Plant a Native Tree for a Greener Future

by Heather McCargo

Black Willow

Planting a native tree is a powerful act that directly benefits local wildlife, moderates ground temperature, and helps remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Since the dawn of agriculture, people have been cutting trees and replacing forests with farmland. More recently, sprawling urban centers have displaced millions of acres of woodland and, here in Maine, our forested landscape has been radically altered over the past few hundred years despite its remaining beauty. With a warming climate and increased urbanization, planting native trees, especially in our local neighborhoods, is an action that each of us can do to counter the negative effects of climate change.

While all plants are impressive (after all, the process of photosynthesis is the reason that you and I are able to exist!), trees are perhaps the most amazing because of their size, beauty, and stature. Trees rise above all other plants, their trunks and leafy branches reaching skyward, creating a tremendous amount of habitat for a multitude of animal species. Woodlands create a protective canopy above the earth that regulates temperature, moisture, and nutrient cycles. Trees also store carbon in their mass, capture and recycle rainwater, and shade and protect the earth with their roots and leaf litter.

It is easy to feel despondent at the loss of forests and natural landscapes worldwide – what can one person do? But when each of us plants a tree, we take one step toward reversing the impact of deforestation. A tree may just be one component of a forest, but even a single native tree will attract a large diversity of other creatures and provide year-round interest and beauty when most of the ground level vegetation goes dormant.

Native Trees to Plant

Red Oak

Listed here are some canopy trees native to Maine that deserve space in our landscape. Imagine the collective impact if each of us plants one tree in our yard, neighborhood park, or parking lot; on our street; or at our school or business.

  • Maple: red, silver and sugar (Acer rubrum*, A. saccharinum*, A. saccharum)
  • Birch: paper, yellow, sweet (Betula populifolia, B. alleghaniensis, B. lenta)
  • Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
  • American chestnut (Castanea dentata)
  • Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
  • Ash (Fraxinus americana)
  • Butternut (Juglans cinerea
  • Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)*
  • Spruce (Picea Rubens, P. glauca)
  • Pine (Pinus strobus, P. resinosa, P. rigida)
  • American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Poplar (Populus grandidentata)
  • Black cherry (Prunus serotine*)
  • Elm (Ulmus americana)*
  • Oak (Quercus alba, Q. rubra, Q. prinus Q. velutina, Q. coccinea*, Q. macrocarpa*, Q. bicolor)
  • Black willow (Salix nigra)
  • Basswood (Tilia americana)
  • Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

For in-depth information and photos of these trees, see Forest Trees of Maine. Species marked with asterisk (*) are tolerant of tough urban and roadside conditions such as compacted soil and salt spray and are excellent candidates for neighborhood street trees. Other species will thrive in yards and large green spaces.

A Note About Invasive Pests

A few of the species listed above are being attacked by invasive pests (insect or fungus). Most species are eventually able to overcome pests as long as there is enough genetic diversity within the population. It is important to keep sowing seeds of these species and remain hopeful that resistant individuals will reproduce to carry that species into the future.

American Elm

Planting a Tree

Before choosing a tree for your location, take the time to determine your site conditions and match them to the tree’s requirements. To create optimum soil conditions for forest species, add a thick mulch of composted leaves (often available from your town recycling center) or aged hardwood bark. This will help bring back the microorganisms in the soil and hold moisture. In the fall, leave your leaves and resist the urge to rake them away, as this is how nutrients are recycled in the forest and many species of wildlife overwinter in the leaf litter.

Also keep in mind that smaller trees are much easier to plant than larger ones – younger trees establish themselves more quickly and are much less expensive. Within a couple of years, they’ll surpass a larger transplanted specimen. Trees can be planted as soon as the ground thaws — the earlier the better to take advantage of spring rains and cooler temperatures for root growth.

Last, if you want to plant a street tree in front of your house, check with your local city or town arborist. Offer to plant it yourself, or some cities (like Portland) will help you with street tree planting — just make sure you ask for a native tree and help to care for the tree after it is planted.

For detailed instruction on how to plant a tree and data on the environmental benefits of trees and forests, see the website of the Arbor Day Foundation.

Purchase a young tree from a nursery or grow your own from seed


When choosing a tree at a nursery, look for trees grown from seed instead of cloned forms (for example: if you want to plant red maple, choose Acer rubrum instead of the cultivar Acer rubrum “Crimson King”). Clones are all from one individual and lack genetic diversity, the basis of resilience (resistance to heat, cold, drought, pollution, or pests) in a species.

Winter is a great time of year to let your local nursery know what native plants you want to purchase. Knowledgeable staff are working on their spring orders and can let you know what they plan to have in stock and may even be willing to make a special order for you. Also, look for native plant sales in the spring — many conservation and gardening organizations host annual events. We post upcoming native plant sales that we are aware of on the Wild Seed Project Facebook page.

Trees can be purchased in pots, ball and burlap (dug with soil and wrapped in cloth), or bare-root (freshly dug from the ground without soil). Winter is the time to order your bare root trees. Two good mail order sources of bare root native trees are FEDCO Trees and Prairie Moon Nursery.

Many trees are easy to grow from seed — read our blog post on this topic. Also, here are some ideas for small native trees and ideas on planting under the shade of trees.

How to plant a tree in the yard? Ekaterina Tamulionis answers questions from readers

Residents of the district often turn to the newspaper and ask them to tell them how to plant a tree or an ornamental bush in their yard, on their native street, in the square near their house. Here is a letter that came from the Prospekt Vernadsky district.

“I want to make the lawn under the window beautiful by arranging it with lilac bushes,” a resident of the street tells us. Lobachevsky Elena Irteneva, - I heard that it is necessary to coordinate all plantings with the Department of Nature Management and Environmental Protection of the city of Moscow. Is it so? And why is it necessary to inform the Department when I am going to plant only four lilac bushes?

Ekaterina Tamulenis, Leading Engineer of the Improvement Department of the State Budgetary Institution "Zhilischnik Vernadskogo Prospekt" , answers questions from readers .

- All green spaces growing in the adjacent territory are inventoried by the Department of Nature Management and Environmental Protection of the city of Moscow (hereinafter referred to as the Department) and entered in the territory passport. Each tree and bush has its own serial number and characteristics (diameter, height, age and condition). The Department annually updates these plants in the special program "Register of Green Spaces". When new trees or shrubs are planted, they are added to the passport indicating the program according to which the planting was carried out. And trees are removed from the passport indicating the reason, for example, cutting down an emergency tree on a logging ticket.

How to take part in gardening?

Residents must submit applications and requests regarding planting trees, shrubs in the yard or on the street to the improvement department of their district state budgetary institution "Zhilischnik". The specialists of this organization go to the place where landscaping is planned, communicate with local residents, being interested in what kind of trees and shrubs they want to see next to the house, draw a diagram of future plantings and send it to the Department of Nature Management and Environmental Protection of the city of Moscow. Then the scheme is sent for approval to the city department of underground structures, whose employees compare the places of the proposed landings on the plan with the geo-base, on which the existing underground communications are plotted at the specified landscaping address.

About safety and quality

It is impossible to plant trees and shrubs on communications, firstly, it is dangerous, for example, in the Vernadsky Prospekt area, gas pipes pass underground, and secondly, it is not rational - during excavations, when repair work is carried out on the tracks, these plantings are removed.

Planting trees and shrubs according to city programs is carried out only by the Department of Nature Management and Environmental Protection of the City of Moscow. Its specialists offer for planting species of trees and shrubs that will grow well in our climate, the age of the plants is 3-5 years, they take root easily and quickly grow. In addition, dendrologists take into account the norms of the distance at which trees and shrubs can be planted so that in the future they do not interfere with each other's growth. The proposals of the residents, of course, are accepted, considered, the question of the breed composition is discussed with them.

But the most important thing is that trees and shrubs for landscaping the streets and courtyards of the city are brought only from trusted nurseries, a phytosanitary passport is issued for each plant, which indicates that the plant is of high quality - healthy. Some landscaping enthusiasts dig up trees and shrubs from the forest, bring them from country cottages and plant them in their backyard. But where is the guarantee that this or that plant does not get sick and will not infect existing green spaces?! Chestnuts grew in Moscow, they grew beautifully, until someone brought and planted a diseased chestnut. Gradually, all the chestnuts of the city were struck by one infection - “rust” covered the leaves of the trees and temporarily stopped planting chestnuts. Therefore, unauthorized landings are prohibited by a decree of the Moscow Government.

Trends of the time

- Ekaterina Viktorovna, how many trees and shrubs are there in the Vernadsky Prospekt area today, what species do the residents prefer and what is planned to be planted this year?

- In the territory under the jurisdiction of the State Budgetary Institution "Housing of the Prospekt Vernadsky District", grow: 30,300 trees and 41,039 shrubs. Under the Million Trees program, this autumn we plan to plant: lindens, mountain ash, pines, Norway maples - a total of 18 trees and 1080 shrubs - spirea, lilac, cotoneaster bird cherry and thuja. Under the Living Fence program, we will plant 9 more000 shrubs. Today, “green fences” are in trend, they perfectly replace iron ones, besides they look beautiful, they can be given any shape - from a staircase to a wave. In addition to the universal, unpretentious, well-tolerating pruning and fast-growing cotoneaster, turf and arborvitae are suitable for hedges.

Top popularity

- Residents of the Vernadsky Prospekt area are very fond of maple, birch, mountain ash, willow, and we plant these trees at their request. Of the shrubs are popular: hawthorn, vesicle, barberry, dog rose, spirea, mock orange. We try to diversify our green fund, if a shrub grows, for example, with white inflorescences, then we add bright colors and plant rocks with red flowers. Planting of annual flowering plants will soon begin along the central roads of the region, in particular on Leninsky Prospekt, Vernadsky Prospekt and Udaltsova Street. Spring tulips have been planted in flower beds since autumn, after they bloom, a multi-colored carpet of petunia, begonia, salvia, tagetis will appear on the flower beds.

- How often are green areas watered in summer?

After winter, we sprinkled trees and shrubs, washed off dirt from branches and trunks. Usually the trees have enough natural watering, but if the summer is hot, then we additionally water the trees. We regularly water the shrubs and constantly water the flower beds.

-- Photo: Kirill Zhuravok

News | Improvement, Question-Answer

Trees. How to plant and grow a tree, how to care for them, how to use them in landscape design - Botanichka

A complete landscape garden is impossible without the use of trees. You can create a cozy and beautiful green corner in the country from flowers and ornamental shrubs, but if there is not a single tree there, it will be a stretch to call it a garden. Decorative trees form the skeleton of the garden, it is around them that the landscape designer “dances”, working on creating the landscape of a particular site. Trees grow slowly and live long. Most of the plants we plant will definitely outlive us, and some will thrive for several generations of our descendants (forest velvet, for example). That is why the concept of "family tree" exists. Do you have this in your garden?


This sub-heading is an opportunity to learn something about trees that you did not know before. Which of them live longer than others, and which grow the fastest? Which ones are decorative at any time of the year, and which ones do not winter well in the middle lane? This knowledge will help you choose those trees for the garden that will not only become its decoration, but will also require minimal maintenance. Experienced experts advise those wishing to create a practical garden to give preference to plants native to the region or well-acclimatized exotics. The materials of our subheading will tell you how to plant this or that tree, how to care for them, how to use them in landscape design. Join us on our Forum - ask questions and share your experience!


Tips for spring planting. How to plant trees and shrubs in spring?

Gardeners often have strong doubts about what time of year is best for planting, but the answer to this question is very ambiguous. Some trees and shrubs do best when planted in the spring. In many ways, spring is indeed considered a good season for planting trees and shrubs. What trees and shrubs to plant in spring, and how to do it right, read this article.

Not only birch! What trees will give juice in spring?

Collecting sap from trees attracts many, because it is another "harvest" that can be obtained from plants in the spring. In addition, such juice can be turned into sugar syrup. Our most famous sap tree is the birch. However, some other trees can also be used to obtain juice. From our article you will learn about which trees you can collect juice from and how to make syrup from it.

Maples - hardy species to replace Japanese

Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are very attractive and many varieties are available at garden centers. However, growing Japanese maple is challenging unless you live in the southern regions. But not all is lost. In this article, you'll learn about two hardy maples that are great alternatives to the more delicate Japanese maples.

Spring mood - subtleties of forcing bushes

Why wait for the onset of a full-fledged spring, if there is an opportunity to admire the flowering branches of shrubs and trees already in winter or early spring? Actually, it's quite simple! All you need is a sharp pruner and a spring-blooming tree or shrub. Let's find out in more detail how to make the branches bloom ahead of time, like in a fairy tale.

Navigation with plants, or Nature as a compass

Using nature as a compass is not only fun and a way to impress your friends, but also an opportunity to develop your powers of observation. You never know where this invaluable knowledge will come in handy. In other situations, such information can even save a life if someone gets lost without a map or compass. And, as you know, extreme situations usually arise when they are least expected, and it is better to learn in advance to read the signs of nature.

We transplant trees and shrubs correctly

Properly planning planting in the garden is not an easy task, requiring certain knowledge. The lack of the necessary information and experience is often the cause of errors and the need to subsequently make changes to the project. In some cases, it is necessary to replant already grown, and sometimes completely mature trees. Illiterate stands can interfere with each other, since their future dimensions were not taken into account initially. Thickened plantings need to be planted out to give the plants more space to develop.

Can oak leaves be used in the garden?

Most gardeners have probably heard that oak leaves are toxic. They contain a lot of tannins and are acidic, so they should not be composted or used in any way in the garden. However, there is another opinion, according to which such beliefs are not true, or at least greatly exaggerated. Let's figure out together which side is the truth, and how oak leaves can be used in the garden.

What fast-growing trees will help close the neighbor's house?

Having moved to a country house with a garden, we, like many people, wanted peace and solitude in nature. But everything turned out like a bad joke. Soon the neighboring plot was bought out, and the new neighbors erected a three-story house with windows overlooking our garden. But I did not despair. In today's article I will tell you what trees I acquired in order to hide the neighbor's house from our eyes as soon as possible, or rather, to close our garden from prying eyes.

How to grow a tulip tree in the garden?

Among the plants that were brought to our continent and successfully took root, there are many interesting and familiar ones. Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, lilacs... But despite the fact that it seems that nothing surprises us anymore, we still have to be surprised. So, one of the unusual trees that can now be found, not only in dendrological gardens, but also, for example, on one of the streets of Sevastopol, is a tulip tree. This plant is rare, but in recent years it has been talked about more and more often.

Online conference about ornamental conifers in Russia

We invite you to take part in the first online conference dedicated to the introduction and breeding of ornamental conifers in Russia. The best specialists in this field have prepared presentations for you! The online event will take place on October 9 from 11.00 to 13.00 Moscow time

Popular low trees for landscape design

Not everyone in the yard will have a place for a giant ship pine or a huge oak. But, fortunately, there are many dwarf trees suitable for small gardens. Such trees usually grow no more than 4-4. 5 meters in height. Not only do they fit easily into landscaping, but they are also less labor intensive to maintain than large trees. In this article, I would like to talk about my favorite low trees that you should pay attention to when planting a small garden.

Best ornamental plants for salt marshes

One of the reasons salt marshes have such an effect on plants is that salt reduces the absorption rate and the amount of water that plant roots can take from the soil. In addition, some salts are toxic to plants at high concentrations. With luck, salt damage may only show up as leaf scorch, but in the worst cases, this leads to leaf death. The solution to this problem is the selection of salt-tolerant plants. Fortunately, there are many such cultures.

Iva Matsudana - an openwork beauty for your garden

Luxurious winding shoots of one of the most spectacular decorative woody Matsudan willows attract attention at any time of the year. We have become so fond of the special type of willow that it has become an almost indispensable plant for both private collections and urban design. At least from among the elite non-flowering woody. The secret of the popularity of Matsudan willow lies, first of all, in external showiness, although undemanding with the right choice of location only pleases.

Sumac - friend or foe?

Sumac creates a stunning visual effect for much of the year, whether growing along roadsides or planted as garden accents. In spring, the plant pleases with large clusters of flowers, in summer with feathery, fern-like foliage, in autumn it has brightly colored autumn foliage of fiery red color, and all winter the tree is decorated with pyramidal...

19 most dangerous invasive plant species in Russia

Invasive, or invasive plant species are called alien species that have entered a new territory and began to actively multiply, displacing native species. Many of the invader plants harm human health, the environment and the species diversity of the plant world. Most of these plants came to us from America, some from other countries. Some were induced on purpose, some "escaped" from botanical gardens or summer cottages.

Should mature ornamental trees and shrubs be cared for?

Having planted a seedling, each gardener provides him with appropriate care. For the development of a young tree, regular watering, shaping, and the introduction of nutrients are required. When a tree or shrub grows, as a rule, the attention of the owner weakens, because the plant has grown stronger, which means it can cope with troubles on its own. However, adult ornamental shrubs and trees also need our help. They can get sick, suffer from frost or drought, from pests. How to care for mature plants?

How to strengthen the slope with plants?

Difficult terrain has long ceased to be considered a disadvantage. This is a great chance for experimentation, unusual design and the search for new solutions. And for special plants that can take root even in non-standard conditions. Plots on the slopes can be beaten in different ways. But they still have to plant plants that can strengthen and hold the soil. Special roots are characteristic of a variety of species. Some plants will surprise with beautiful flowering, others with leaves, and still others with growth form.

Red horse chestnut, which is not afraid of mining moth

Unfortunately, recently the appearance of a chestnut tree with diseased yellow leaves has become familiar to us since mid-summer. And the pest is the miner's moth, which is very difficult to fight. Because of this problem, today in the landscaping of many cities the question of replacing ordinary horse chestnuts with red ones has been raised. Perhaps for our grandchildren - a chestnut tree with red flowers will already become commonplace. In this article, I propose to get to know him better.

Learn more