What is the proper way to plant a tree?

Plants endure a variety of stress throughout their lifetime and quite often improper planting is one of them.  Fortunately, it is one of the stresses that we can easily eliminate.  By planting a tree properly, we can greatly reduce the impact of any other stresses which can occur.  Here are a few tips for proper tree planting.

  • Start with the right tree in the right place. There are literally thousands of trees to choose from.  Make sure you match the tree’s requirements with the conditions of the site you will be planting.
  • The sides of the planting hole should be tapered, with the opening being wider than the bottom and large enough to accommodate the roots and soil ball.
  • The sides of the planting hole should be roughed or scored with a shovel or pickax to break up any smooth surface or glazing created from the backpressure of the shovel.  This compressed layer around the outside of the hole is often dense enough to slow the outward growth of new roots into the surrounding soil.
  • Do not dig too deep – the root flare or collar of the tree should be at the final soil grade or slightly higher.  The root collar is the junction between the stem of the plant and the root system.  This point is often associated with a gentle flare when the stem merges into the root system.
  • Before backfilling, make sure the plant is positioned properly in the hole.  At this time you should also untie the burlap and fold it and the top loops of the wire basket down the sides of the root ball.
  • Gradually add soil and firmly pack against root ball until hole is half way filled.  At this point gently fill the hole with water and let it soak in.  This will help get rid of any air pockets and stabilize the tree.  When the water has drained continue filling the hole with soil until you have reached just below the root flare.
  • Tree staking is typically not necessary, but the type, size and location of the tree may deem it necessary.
  • Applying a 3” mulch ring the size of the tree canopy is recommended. This will help the soil retain moisture, but make sure it is not piled up against the trunk because this will cause decay and fungus.
  • Continue deep, frequent waterings throughout the growing season (1-2 gallons per inch of trunk caliper).  Additional watering may be necessary the following season, if drought exists. It takes several years for most trees to overcome transplant shock.