How to: 9 Steps to Planting a Tree

How to: 9 Steps to Planting a Tree

Trent Johnson
Sep 17, 2008

Most folks are aware of the benefits of planting more trees: carbon sequestering, erosion control, oxygen production, natural shade (save on A/C), privacy, noise control, wind block - the list goes on. But do you know how to steps to planting one correctly?

Popular Mechanics has put together a fairly comprehensive how-to on planting a tree. Here are their basic steps with several modifications and additions based my own experience:

1. Visit your local nursery to determine the type of tree suited for your climate and needs. Be sure to determine whether you want an deciduous (looses its leaves in the Fall) or evergreen (stays green year long!).

2. Determine the planting site: Be sure to learn how large the tree will grow. Choose a location 15 to 20 ft. from the house, sidewalk, driveway and other trees.
• Steer clear of overhead power lines.
• To ensure there are no buried wires or pipes in the area, call your utility company or " Call Before You Dig (811)," to get the local number you need to call.
World Class Trees has some great information on where to plant.

3. Mark the planting location:
• Drive a wooden or metal stake into the ground at the center of the planting location.
• Measure the diameter of the tree's root ball at its greatest dimension.
• Cut a length of twine 1 or 1½ times the root-ball diameter (for example, a 2-ft.-dia. root ball requires 2 or 3 ft. of twine).
• Loosely tie the string to the stake.
• Use a shovel to notch the perimeter.

4. Measure the height of the root ball.
• Stand up the tree and loosen the burlap from around the base of the trunk. (Don't remove all the burlap just yet.)
• Use a three-prong cultivator or small garden trowel to remove soil from the top of the root ball; dig away just enough soil to expose the root flare, which is the point where the trunk spreads out to the individual roots.
• Measure the height of the root ball from the ground to the bottom of the exposed root flare. This distance will be the depth of your hole—the idea is to keep the root flare exposed.
Note: In rocky or clay ridden soil, digging a deeper hole to allow for proper drainage and to help the roots get a head start is recommend. You can add enriched soil to bring the root ball back up to the proper height.

4. Dig the hole.
• Lay a plastic tarp near the site of the hole.
• Use a pointed shovel to cut through the grass all around the perimeter of the painted outline.
• Use a flat-blade shovel to remove the grass, which you can discard or transplant elsewhere. (Never backfill a hole with grass.)
• Start digging, shoveling the soil onto the tarp so you can easily get it back into the hole when it's time to backfill.

5. Measure the hole depth.
• Drive a stake into the ground next to the hole and tie a string onto it at grade.
• Pull the string level across the hole and measure down from the string to the bottom of the hole.
• If necessary, dig out more soil to reach the desired depth.
• Use the shovel to scrape the bottom of the hole flat.
• Don't leave the soil smooth otherwise some roots can have problems penetrating the perimeter. Scratch the soil with your shovel if necessary.

6. Set the tree into the hole.
• Carry or roll the tree into the hole, making sure to support its upper branches.
• Stand it upright, then step back and look at the tree. Have a helper rotate the tree as you look for its best "face."
• Position the tree so its face is pointing in the most prominent direction—typically the street when planted in the front yard, or the rear deck, porch or kitchen window when planted in the backyard.

7. Prep the root ball.
• If the root ball is enclosed by a wire basket, cut away the basket using bolt cutters or metal snips.
• Cut and remove the twine from the root ball, then peel back the burlap. Use scissors or a utility knife to cut away as much burlap as possible. You don't have to remove the basket or burlap from the very bottom of the hole, which is difficult if the tree has a large, heavy root ball.
• Use a cultivator or garden rake to scratch at the soil around the ball; this helps loosen tightly packed soil and expose the tiny roots.

8. Backfill the hole.
• Mix up the soil with a shovel, then start shoveling it into the hole, making sure you don't bury the root flare.
• When the hole is full, use the shovel to create a 6-in.-high curb of soil around the tree; this forms a crater to retain water.
• Use a garden hose to fill the crater with water. Wait for the water to be absorbed by the soil, then knock down the curb and smooth out the dirt with a rake.

9. Water regularly or drip-irrigate.
• Spread 3 in. of mulch over the exposed dirt around the tree. Be sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk where mulch can trap moisture and promote rot.
• Water the tree every day for at least six weeks to give the roots enough time to become fully established.
• For a convenient alternative, hang two drip-irrigation bags from the tree's trunk. Fill each bag with water.
• Check the bags for water each day, refilling as necessary. Keep the bags in place for six to eight weeks.

Via Popular Mechanics
The Queen Planting a Tree image from Nasa
Where to Plant images fromWorld Class Tree Service

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