How to Plant a Tree

Planting a tree requires more than digging. Learn the proper technique for returning a tree to the earth.

| March/April 2001

  • Photo By Charles Mann

1. Dig an area two-and-a-half times wider and the same depth as the root ball. Remove grass or other vegetation. Lay a tarp on the ground near the hole to put soil on as you dig it out. Do not disturb the bottom of the hole. The plant needs to sit on solid ground so it will not settle.

2. If your soil is a rich, well-drained loam, you do not need to add amendments. However, if the soil is hard to dig and has a lot of clumps, you can add one part organic matter (compost or peat) to three parts existing soil. Mix the or­ganic matter into the soil piled on the tarp.

3. Remove the tree from the container and loosen the roots in a few places, or make an X-shaped cut across the bottom. If the tree is balled and burlapped, remove the wire basket or at least cut the top half of burlap away with wire cutters.

4. Set the tree in the hole at the same level it was in the nursery where it was grown. Remove all twine from the base of the trunk or stem. Remove synthetic burlap completely. If the burlap is natural, pull it away from the trunk and fold it back down into the hole or cut it off.

5. Add some backfill to the hole. Firmly pack soil to eliminate air pockets. When the hole is about half full, saturate the fill with water to help settle soil and remove air pockets. Let the water soak in, then finish filling the hole to existing grade.

6. Don’t use stakes for support unless the tree is on a slope or in a high wind location. Trees with a trunk two inches diameter or less can be supported by a two-by-four stake extending up to the first layer of branches. Drive the stake into the hole after the tree is in place but before adding backfill. Use a cloth strip to loosely attach the tree to the stake. For larger trees, use two to three stakes spaced evenly around the tree. Remove all stakes after the first year.

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