Instructions on how to plant a tree

Planting a Tree

Trees are an investment. How well that investment grows depends on several factors including, the type of tree planted, its location and the care provided. Getting your new tree off to a healthy start will help the tree mature to its full size and ensures it will provide environmental, economic, and social benefits throughout its lifetime.

Learn more about planting a new tree.

When to Plant


Dormant seasons, the fall after leaf drop and early spring before bud break, are ideal times to plant new trees. Be sure the weather conditions are cool and allow time for new plants to establish roots in the new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth. Healthy bailed and burlapped or container trees can be planted throughout the growing season. In areas where trees grow year round, tropical and subtropical climates, any time is a good time to plant a new tree as long as sufficient water is available.

Planting Stress


Transplant shock is a state of slowed growth and reduced vitality following transplanting and can affect balled-and-burlapped trees lose a causing them to lose a significant portion of their root system when dug at the nursery. Container trees may also experience transplant shock. Proper site preparation, careful handling to prevent further root damage, and good follow-up care reduces transplant shock and promotes faster recovery.

How to Plant a Tree

Carefully follow these nine steps to help your tree establish quickly in its new location: 

1. The trunk flare is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. Ensure trunk flare is partially visible after the tree is planted. Remove excess soil prior to planting if flare is not visible. 

2. Dig a shallow, broad planting hole. Holes should be 2–3 times wider than the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball.

3. If wrapped, remove any cover from around the root ball and trunk to facilitate root growth. Remove wire basket or cut one or two rings off so it is low-profile and will not interfere with future root growth. Inspect tree root ball for circling roots and straighten, cut, or remove them. Expose the trunk flare if necessary.

4. Place the tree at the proper height. When placing the tree in the hole, lift by the root ball, not the trunk. The majority of tree’s roots develop in the top 12 inches (30 cm) of soil. Planting too deep can be harmful to the tree.  

5. Straighten the tree in the hole. Before filling the hole, have someone examine the tree from several angles to confirm it is straight.

6. Fill the hole gently but firmly. Pack soil around the base of the root ball to stabilize it. 
Fill the hole firmly to eliminate air pockets. Further reduce air pockets by watering periodically while backfilling. Avoid fertilizing at the time of planting. 

7. If staking is necessary, three stakes or underground systems provide optimum support. Studies have shown that trees develop stronger trunks and roots if they are not staked; however, it may be required when planting bare root stock or on windy sites. Remove stakes after first year of growth.

8. Mulch the base of the tree. Place a 2–3 inch (5–7. 5 cm) layer of mulch, but be sure not to pile much right against the trunk. A mulch-free area of 1–2 inches (2.5–5 cm) wide at the base of the tree will reduce moist bark and prevent decay.

9. Provide follow-up care. Keep the soil moist by watering at least once a week, barring rain, and more frequently during hot, windy weather. Continue until mid-fall, tapering off as lower temperatures require less-frequent watering.

Other follow-up care to consider:
• Minor pruning of branches damaged during the planting process may be required. 
• Prune sparingly after planting. Delay corrective pruning until a full season of growth.
• If trunk wrapping is necessary, use biodegradable materials and wrap from the bottom. 

Consult your local ISA Certified Arborist® or a tree care or garden center professional for assistance regarding your tree. 

Note: Before you begin planting your tree, be sure you have located all underground utilities prior to digging. 811 is the US national call-before-you-dig phone number. Anyone who plans to dig should call 811 or go to their state 811 center’s website.

Right Tree – Right Place


Proper tree placement can enhance your property and prevent costly maintenance and repairs down the road. Consider utility lines, the side walk and driveways when choosing a location.  A local arborist or tree care professional, utility company, local nursery, or county extension office can help with proper tree placement.



Mulching is one of the most beneficial practices a homeowner can use for better tree health. Mulches are applied to the soil surface to maintain moisture and improve soil conditions. However, if misapplied, mulch may have little, or even negative, impact on the trees in your landscape.

The benefits of proper mulching include:

  • Reduces soil moisture loss through evaporation.
  • Controls weed germination and growth.
  • Insulates soil, protecting roots from extreme summer and winter temperatures.

Learn more about proper mulching techniques

Avoiding Tree and Utility Conflicts

Determining where to plant a tree is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Many factors should be considered prior to planting. When planning what type of tree to plant, remember to look up and look down to determine where the tree will be located in relation to overhead and underground utility lines.

Learn more about planting trees near utilities.

Overhead Lines


Overhead utility lines are easy to spot, yet often overlooked. Planting tall-growing trees under or near these lines eventually requires your utility provider to prune them to maintain safe clearance from the wires. This pruning may result in the tree having an unnatural appearance. Periodic pruning can also lead to a shortened life span for the tree.

Tall-growing trees near overhead lines can cause service interruptions when trees contact wires. Children or adults climbing in these trees can be severely injured or even killed if they come in contact with the wires. Proper selection and placement of trees in and around overhead utilities can eliminate potential public safety hazards, reduce expenses for utilities and their customers, and improve landscape appearance.

Underground Lines

Trees consist of much more than what you see above ground. Many times, the root area below ground is larger than the branch spread. Electric, gas, water, and sewer lines installed underground can be compromised by tree roots. Roots commonly spread many times the breadth of the tree crown and can extend out farther than the height of a tree. 

Locating Underground Utilities
The greatest danger to underground utilities occurs during planting. Accidental digging into underground utilities can cause costly repairs to restore interrupted service or result in injury or loss of life. Before digging call your utility company or locator service to make sure you have located underground utilities. Never assume that utilities are buried deeper than you plan to dig. Locating underground utilities before digging is often required by law. 

How to Plant A Tree the Right Way - 7 Steps for Getting it Right Every Time

With a little luck and good timing, sometimes simply sticking a tree in the ground and walking away can be enough for it to survive. But knowing how to plant a tree the right way, will ensure success every time. In my book, there are 7 steps for planting success which I share below.

Suffice it to say, I’ve learned these all-important st eps mostly by trial and error. It’s always the best way to learn, especially when it comes to gardening.

Trees have been described as the lungs of the earth for good reason. Without them, there would be no life on this planet. That’s reason enough to plant as many as we can. But when you learn just how important they are for so many reasons, you begin to understand my passion for trees and why we need more.

That’s led to a lifelong crusade to encourage people to plant more trees. Or even one. So it only stands to reason how thrilled I was to team up with Lands’ End recently to encourage everyone to #PlantATree in celebration of Earth Day this year.

So whether this is your first tree planting, or you’ve planted a forest by now, we’re always learning. Knowing how to plant a tree the right way — especially now, considering such unprecedented climate conditions — will ensure your efforts will not be in vain.

To give you the whole story, check out this video we created to walk you through how to plant a tree the right way, along with the 7-steps for getting it right every time.

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Trees (and shrubs) can be planted any time of the year that you can dig the proper planting hole. However, there are better times than others for multiple reasons.

Suffice it to say, the more time you can put between when you plant a tree, and the arrival of summer, the better. That makes fall the very best time of year to relocate trees and shrubs or plant new ones. Early spring is a popular time as well.

An easy way to know if your hole is at the right depth is to take your shovel handle and lay it across the grade. The top of the root ball or tree flare should be at or above the handle level.

How to plant a tree the right way – follow these seven important steps:

-1. Prepare the proper planting hole. When preparing any hole for planting, make it three times wider than the current root mass but never deeper than the plant was growing in its previous environment.

An even better guide with trees is to look for the flare of the trunk near the soil level. Don’t place the tree in the planting hole so deep that any part of that flare is covered with soil. The truth is, even nurseries sometimes put plants in containers too deeply. There have been many times where I’ve actually had to pull away soil to find the base of the trunk flare and true surface roots. Make a habit of checking this.

-2. Plant high. I go even one step further by placing trees and shrubs in their new environment with up to 25% of the root ball higher than the surrounding soil level. I then taper soil up to cover all the roots and add a generous layer of mulch above that. Newly disturbed soil tends to settle and shrubs and trees planted at grade can quickly settle below grade and succumb to root rot or disease.

In my book, it’s always better to plant a tree or shrub slightly high and allow the area to drain away rather than for a plant to sit in a bowl and collect excess water.

Don’t be afraid to break up the roots of a pot plant tree or plant to free them of their circular growth pattern. In fact, you must. Failure to do so now (your last chance) can doom your plant to lackluster performance at best.

-3. Inspect the roots and disturb when necessary. Once the plant is out of its container, look at the roots. If they are densely bound in a circular pattern or have started growing in the shape of the container (even slightly), break up the pattern.

It’s vitally important to stop this pattern now. The biggest mistake you can make at this point is to place a rootbound plant into the ground as is. Unless you break up the pattern, you’ve likely sentenced the plant to a slow death. At a minimum, it will likely never establish or reach a fraction of its potential.

Don’t worry about hurting the roots or losing soil as you break the roots apart or even cut some away. Better to give them a fresh start than allow the constrictive pattern to only get worse below ground. While you don’t want to be any rougher than necessary, do what you must to arrest the pattern.

I often scratch my fingers across the sides and bottom of the root mass in mild cases. In more severe situations, I’ll slice up the roots vertically with a pruning saw, hack off the bottom inch or so, and or pull apart the root mass to clearly create new opportunities for non-circular new root development.

Unless you can dig a hole large enough for the eventual mature root zone and amend the entire area, simply backfill with the existing native soil.

-4. Don’t amend the soil. Contrary to traditional planting methods, contemporary research indicates that you should not amend the hole with additional organic material (unless you intend to amend the entire area where roots will eventually grow). Roots growing in amended soil rarely venture into harder native soil. The long-term affect is a smaller root system, reduced growth and a less hardy plant.

Instead, simply break up the clumps in existing soil, remove the rocks and backfill. Studies show plant roots growing in only the native soil actually did a better job at establishing and expanding beyond the original hole.

I find the best and easiest way to eliminate air pockets during planting is to blast the backfilled soil with a stiff stream of water after refilling the hole about half way. Then again after all the soil has been added back.

-5. Eliminate air pockets. While you could lightly tamp or hand-pack the soil around the plant roots to ensure good soil-to-root contact, I prefer to add a stiff spray of water to the hole after backfilling half way. Not only does it provide needed moisture but the water also helps eliminate air pockets that could otherwise result in dead roots or worse (without compacting the soil too much). Finally, water again gently but thoroughly once all the soil is in place.

-6. Add mulch. Starting about two inches from the trunk (leave this area exposed), place roughly two inches of organic matter such as shredded leaves, or ground bark or nuggets around the plant, at least out to the drip line. Further is better. Mulch helps retain much-needed moisture and helps keep roots cooler near the surface—a very important requirement for newly installed plants.

Perhaps the most important step during the planting process is to keep up with the watering until your plant is fully established. That can take longer than you think. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation on automatic times makes this an easy process.

-7. Water Properly Until Established. The most important job you will have after planting is to keep plants and trees well watered until established. This can take weeks to months, to even a year or more in some cases. But don’t worry. You can put this part of the process on auto-pilot. (I’ll tell you how below.)

The key to proper watering and establishment is slow and deep irrigation. It’s not practical to do that by hand. The only way to establish trees properly through irrigation is with soaker hoses or drip irrigation.

The slow and deep irrigation allows the soil around the roots to saturate, so the roots have time to absorb the moisture, while avoiding excess runoff. Short, manual blasts of water from an overhead hose or sprinkler system simply don’t come close to providing the same effectiveness for water delivery.

I water newly planted trees every day for about the first week. For the next two weeks, I ease off to about every other day. Then gradually ease back from there.

However, there’s a fine line between watering enough and watering too much—especially with large trees that arrive with root balls wrapped in burlap. These trees have lost all their feeder roots when dug from the ground. Providing adequate water is critical to their survival and establishment.

That said, I’ve killed more than one tree like this by overwatering. Even if you prepare a large planting hole, when drainage is poor, the root ball may be sitting in water and literally drown. There’s no easy way to know how wet the soil is deeper into the planting hole.

The best advice I can offer is to pay close attention to how the tree responds (and all your plants for that matter). While it’s common for them to lose up to half their leaves to transplant stress (a normal part of the process), more can indicate a potential problem.

If you sense the tree is responding poorly, and you are watering consistently, you’re likely over-watering. If the leaves are turning brown, drying up, and falling off, and the soil appears dry, water more.

To add to the challenge, soil that appears dry at the top may be very wet a few inches down. And the opposite is true as well. All the more reason it is important to apply your detective skills based on observation and knowing how much or little you’ve been watering.

In the first few weeks, soil that is moist but not soggy is your target range. And depending on what you’re using to deliver the water will affect how long you need irrigate per session. So there’s no simple answer.

Put Watering on Auto-pilot

One of the best time-savers you can find to lighten the load and put your irrigation duties on auto-pilot is to use soaker hoses and/or drip irrigation combined with portable battery-operated timers. I cannot stress the importance and time-saving benefits enough!


If you plant to fertilize, I don’t suggest doing so until you know your trees or shrubs have taken to their new environment through successful establishment.

All energy should be concentrated on root development first. Adopt the walk-before-you-run approach. But even then, I still like to play it safe by using a slow-release, non-burning organic fertilizer that won’t over-tax my plants.

While all the above steps are essential, your active engagement in monitoring newly planted trees for signs of distress over time will be the ultimate deciding factor in your tree planting success. Make any necessary adjustments in real-time, and you can likely reverse a potentially downward spiral into a tree that will live a happy and very long life.

Please join me this Earth Day and let’s all #PlantATree.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp'l is the Host and Executive Producer of the award winning PBS television series Growing A Greener World. Off camera, Joe dedicates his time to promoting sustainability through his popular books, blog, podcast series, and nationally syndicated newspaper columns. Follow Joe on Twitter

How to plant a tree in spring

Novice gardeners are wondering if it is possible to plant a seedling in the spring and how effective will the tree take root in this case? We understand the rules for successful spring planting of trees.

When thinking about which trees to plant in spring, you need to consider the region in which you live. For example, for the southern regions, the optimal time for planting is autumn, because trees planted in spring may not have time to take root before the onset of hot days, which means they risk getting burned or dying.

But in the central regions, the timing of planting trees can fall both in autumn and in spring - due to the temperate climate, seedlings have every chance to take root in the same way. For the northern regions, spring planting of seedlings is the best option, since trees planted in autumn often do not have time to acclimatize and die from hypothermia.

Spring tree planting: pros and cons

Let's start with the benefits of spring tree planting:

1. In spring there is an opportunity to observe the process of plant survival, and the probability that it will freeze out, as often happens in winter, is practically reduced to zero.

2. You will have enough time to prepare everything related to planting fruit trees: fertilize the soil, think over the planting plan, get a tool, which means that the procedure itself will be better.

The disadvantages of spring planting are as follows:

1. Seedlings should be bought in autumn, because in spring the choice on the market will not be so wide.

2. If the summer is hot, young trees will have to be watered almost every day.

Preparing the seedling for planting

It is better to buy tree seedlings in autumn, when the plants are already at rest. And before planting seedlings in the spring, they need to be prepared. Carefully inspect the root system and cut off dead, rotten or damaged roots with a sharp pruner. Remove growths, shorten too long roots.

To improve root formation, before planting, dip the roots of the seedling into a growth stimulator solution (Kornevin, Heteroauxin, Kornerost, Rooting, etc.).

10 days after planting, it is recommended to water the seedling under the root with a solution of a growth stimulator (0.5 l per 1 plant).

Pit preparation

Since most of the trees are photophilous plants, the best location of the garden on the site is the south and southwest side. When planning to plant trees on the site, remember that it is important to observe the correct neighborhood. So, cherries and apple trees feel great next to each other, but they do not recommend planting a pear next to cherries, cherry plums and plums.

Depending on the species, the distance between trees when planting should be between 1.5 and 6 m.

Crop Row spacing (m) Distance between plants in a row (m)
Apricot 5-6 3-4
Tall cherry 4-5 3-4
Low cherry 3-4 2.5-3
Pear on a vigorous rootstock 6-8 4-6
Pear on a stunted rootstock 4-5 1.5-2.5
Peach 5-6 3-4
Tall plum 4-5 3-4
Low-growing plum 3-4 2. 5-3
Apple tree on a vigorous rootstock 6-8 4-6
Apple tree on a weak rootstock 4-5 1.5-2.5

For the spring planting of trees, the soil must be prepared already from summer-autumn, so that a favorable environment for the seedling is formed in it in a few months. In extreme cases, work is carried out in the spring after thawing the soil, 1-2 weeks before planting.

At the first autumn digging, large weeds should be selected from the soil, during the second - fertilizer should be applied at the rate of: 6-8 kg of compost and 8-10 kg of a mixture of peat with superphosphate (80-100 g), potassium salt (30-50 g ) and potassium sulfate (30-40 g) per 1 sq.m of the site selected for planting trees.

In the spring, before starting to dig planting holes, mark their contours with a shovel (for convenience, place a stake in the selected place and use it as the center of the circle).

For pear and apple trees, the standard planting hole is 80-100 cm in diameter and 60-70 cm deep. Plum and cherry seedlings will feel good in a hole with a diameter of 70-80 cm and a depth of 50-60 cm. If the seedlings are more than 2 years old, then the size of the hole needs to be increased.

You can be guided by the following rule: the diameter of the planting hole should be 1.5 times the diameter of the seedling's earthen clod.

How to properly plant a seedling

When digging, on one side of the pit, fold the top (turf, 15-20 cm deep) layer, on the other - the bottom (it has a darker color). Make the pit round and make the walls vertical (sheer). Insert a strong stake 1.5-2 m long into the bottom of the pit in the center in order to later tie a seedling to it. Lay the excavated sod layer at the bottom, then fill the pit with a part of the fertile substrate to a height of 15-20 cm (mix equal amounts of peat, compost and the soil removed from the pit).

Form a mound at the bottom of the hole and place the seedling in it (close to the stake), spreading the roots evenly.

Make sure that when planting the roots of the seedling do not bend upwards: the bent roots develop worse and "slow down" the survival of the tree.

When planting a seedling in a hole, dig it into the soil strictly along the root neck, ideally it should be located 3-5 cm above ground level. Later, the soil will settle a little, and the root collar will drop. If the seedling is too deep, the plant may later begin to rot. While holding the seedling (you will need someone's help for this), fill the hole with the remaining substrate.

The root collar is where the stem of the plant meets the roots. Usually it is 2-3 above the topmost spine.

Gradually compact the ground with your feet, pressing it from the edge to the center of the tree circle. Tie the trunk of the seedling not very tightly to the stake in two places, so that when the soil "shrinks" the tree also falls.

Form a roller around the tree along the perimeter of the circle (we will get a watering "pool").

Watering trees after planting

Immediately after the tree is planted, it must be watered under the root. The water pressure should not be too strong so that the soil does not erode, so use a watering can with a bell or a hose with a sprinkler nozzle. After filling the "pool", wait until the water is absorbed, then fill it again. The first watering will require 1-2 buckets of water.

In the first year after planting, watering of seedlings is carried out quite often - as the soil dries up (during the drought period - 1-2 times a day). Then the frequency of watering is gradually reduced, and completely stopped for 2-3 years.

Experienced gardeners recommend mulching the near-trunk circle of a tree - pouring a layer (8-10 cm) of mulching material (wood chips, sawdust, mowed grass, etc.), leaving the root neck uncovered. This will improve the structure of the soil, protect it from freezing.

Primary care of planted seedlings

During the first year of life of a planted tree, it is necessary to monitor how it develops and, if possible, correct deficiencies. It is not necessary to feed the seedling in the first year, since all the main fertilizers were applied during planting. The trunk circle should be loose and free from weeds.

Keep a close eye on a young tree and look for leaf-eating caterpillars that can cause great harm to the plant. Also, do not allow the formation of overgrowth on the trunk and near the roots, if necessary, cut it off at the very base.

The tree must not be tied tightly to the stake, check that the tie does not rub against the bark of the seedling and does not cut into it. If damage is visible, loosen the garter.

Planting young trees is a serious matter, but following some simple rules, after a while you will get a beautiful flowering garden and an excellent harvest.

How to plant a tree? Step-by-step instructions

To the question "How and when is the best time to plant a tree?" not so easy to answer. There are several factors: the type of tree that you want to see on your site, as well as the climate in which you are going to grow a seedling. We will help you decide on the time of landing and tell you how to choose the right one.

What species are the trees divided into?

Conifers: pines, spruces, firs, larches, cypresses and sequoias. They are also called evergreens.

  • Soddy-podzolic soils are found mainly in the taiga on the territory of Siberia.
  • Permafrost-taiga soils are replaced by podzolic soils to the east of the Yenisei.
  • Gray forest soils stretch from the borders with the Republic of Belarus in the west to the 3rd Baikal region in the east.
  • Chestnut soils in Russia are distributed in the territory of the Caucasus, in the Volga region and in Central Siberia.
  • Chernozems cover the Volga region, the Northern Caucasus, the Southern Urals, Western Siberia.
  • Brown soils are found in the mountains of the Crimea, the Caucasus, the foothills of Altai and the Western Sayan and in the south of the Far East

  • Select planting period and suitable tree

    Spring. In the southern regions, spring planting is sometimes carried out at the end of March, in central Russia - in April or at the very beginning of May, in the north - closer to the beginning or in the middle of May.

    Autumn. In the middle lane of Russia, autumn planting is carried out from mid-September to mid-October, in the northern regions - from early September to early October, in the southern regions - from October

    The choice of season depends only on the type of seedling.

    Want to harvest? Pay attention to fruit trees : apples, pears, apricots, sweet cherries, plums, cherries, mountain ash and sea buckthorn.

    Plant stone and pome trees in the spring.
    Plant hardy apples and pears in autumn .
    Soil composition: clay loam, less often sandy loam.
    Soil reaction: stone fruits (except cherries) and opex-bearing - neutral and slightly alkaline soils; apple and pear - neutral and slightly acidic soils; cherry - acidic soil.

    Tip: To determine the acidity of the soil, just buy an indicator stick from a gardening store and follow the instructions on the package.

    More interested in aesthetics? Choose decorative species that can be both coniferous and deciduous. This group includes thuja, Canadian maples, magnolias, Ola apple trees, junipers, barberries and many other types of trees and shrubs.

    Spring plant birch and oak.

    How to determine the composition of the soil:

    1. take a handful of earth;
    2. wet it with a little water;
    3. mash with your hands to a dough consistency;
    4. ball with walnut opex;
    5. roll it into a cord;
    6. roll it into a ring;
    7. compare result.

    Important! : After you have decided on the species of seedlings, make sure that they get along, and be sure to keep the necessary distance between them. The larger the adult plant, the more space it will need in the future.

    Universal rules for planting a tree

    Step 1. Select the optimal planting time, taking into account the climate and tree species. For example, in spring in central Russia, trees are planted from April 1-10 to May 1, and in autumn - from October 1 to 20. By the way, container plants can also be planted in summer: they are sold together with earth clods and their root system is not so vulnerable.

    Step 2. Choose a good place: for this, be sure to read the compatibility tables and the distance between the trees. Do not forget that some breeds love the sun, others love the shade, and this must also be taken into account.

    Step 3. Prepare the area: clean it of dirt and dig a hole. As a rule, the pit is equal to the size of the ball from the root and the earth, multiplied by two.

    Step 4. Place the bottom layer of earth and fertile soil in separate piles. Align the inner surface of the pit and loosen the bottom well by 15 centimeters in depth and add 20 centimeters of fertile soil.

    Step 5. Place the seedling exactly in the center of the hole and ask someone to hold it level. Gently straighten and spread out the roots.

    Step 6. Sprinkle the tree with fertile soil, then dug from the bottom. Constantly break up the clods and tamp the earth.

    Step 7. Fill the hole halfway and fill it with water. When the liquid is completely absorbed, top up the earth to the top, firmly tamp down and build watering holes around the trunk.

    Note: The radius of the hole depends on the volume of water that it must contain. For example, an apple tree will require a hole, which will include two buckets, and a cherry is enough for one.

    Step 9. Water the plant with two buckets of water and securely tie it to a stake. You will untie the seedling only in a year, two or three, depending on how successfully the tree has rooted.

    Learn more