How to Plant a Tree in 9 Steps

How to Plant a Tree in 9 Steps

There is a science and art behind planting trees that last for a long time. While you may know how to dig a hole, drop a tree inside, and bury the soon-to-be roots, you may not know why the shape of the hole, type of tree, and amount of water to give your tree the best chance of survival.

At Integrated Lawn and Tree Care, we’re a lawn a tree care company that believes it’s more than just grass and leaves. We focus on the specifics so that you can have luscious lawns and tall trees. Our expert team is dedicated to the health and growth of your lawn and trees. It’s quite simple.

In this article, we’re going to walk you through how to plant a tree in nine simple steps. While you may think that planting a tree shouldn’t take that long to do; however, it’s important to understand why each step is paramount to the health and growth of your tree

The 9-Step Tree Planting Process

Step #1: Determine Planting Hole Depth

For most, they believe that planting a tree deep in the ground is the best way to prepare the tree for a long, healthy life. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. A tree needs to be planted relatively shallow to allow for water and nutrient gathering. The goal is to give the tree the greatest opportunity for rapid growth. The root ball (the main mass of soil and roots at the base of the tree) needs to be at least one to three inches above your backfill soil. If you plant your root ball too deep, it can lead to the death of your trees some 12-20 years down the road. Comparatively, there are trees that have lasted for hundreds of years, and they are not rooted deep in the ground, relative to their size.

Step #2: Dig the Hole

How you shape the hole matters. Most just plunge their shovel in the dirt and pull soil up until the hole is large enough to drop their tree into. While this does work for most, it’s not the proper way to ensure a long healthy life for your tree.

You want to dig a saucer-shaped planting hole that is three times the root-ball diameter. For example, a root ball that is 10 inches in diameter is going to need a hole that’s 30 inches. Here are some more general tips:

  • Hole depth should be two-to-three inches less than the root-ball height.
  • The root ball should sit on undug soil.
  • The saucer-shaped hole should have sloped sides.

Step #3: Place the Tree in the Hole

Once you have placed your tree in the hole, go ahead and remove any wrappers. Next, take a look at the tree base. Do you see a slight curve in the trunk? This is typically called a dog leg. The inside curve needs to face the north in order to protect your tree from winter bark damage. Finally, you may need to use calipers to handle large trees so that you do not injure them while placing them into their holes. Here are the placement steps in order:

  • Place tree in hole
  • Remove extra plastic wrappers
  • Do not remove any fabric or burlap wrapping
  • Set inside curve (if it exists, to face the north)
  • Check the depth of the root ball to make sure it’s slightly higher than the hole depth
  • Align tree vertically
  • Move a shallow ring of soil around the base of the root ball for stability

Step #4 (Optional): Stabilize Your Tree Before Burying

You can use undug soil to stabilize your tree before you bury it in soil. This allows you to adjust and move the tree without it falling over and being damaged. You can use undug soil, takes, or both to shore it up in windy areas or if it has an uneven root-ball base.

Step #5: Add the Backfill

Now that your tree is in the hole and stabilized, you can start to add the backfill soil. As you backfill the hole with soil, be sure not to knock or damage your tree. Sometimes you may think that trees are majestic and strong, but that is not until their roots are established in the ground. Break down soil clods that are bigger than a fist down to smaller portions. If you’re working with a clay-based soil, you need to pulverize the clay to allow for oxygen and water to reach the root ball effectively. Finally, remember to stop backfilling about one-to-three inches from the top of the root ball, tapering the dirt off outwards.

Step #6 (Optional): Stake Your Tree

Once you backfill your tree, you can stake it to support its growth until the roots and trunk are strong enough to stand. While most trees do not need staking, some of them do need the extra support. Another reason to stake trees is to protect them from accidental impacts or contact that may injure them. Staking a tree can help keep it standing just as much as it supports the tree in growth.

Step #7: Add Water to Settle the Soil

Now you can water the tree to settle the soil. This gives the tree its first dose of water in its new home and “packs” the soil so that the roots can effectively grow out to support the tree.

Step #8: Regrade the Hole

Once you water the tree and the hole, the soil will settle. This may require you to adjust the soil by removing or adding more soil. Then, you want to make sure the taper of the soil is down and away from the root ball.

Step #9: Mulch the Hole

You can now add mulch to the hole. Remember to not add mulch directly over the root ball. Instead, add mulch around the root ball. The amount of mulch you add matters, too. Generally, three-to-four inches of mulch helps prevent weed growth around the tree. Any additional mulch beyond this amount can reduce potential oxygen supplies for the tree.

Integrated Lawn & Tree Care: Your Expert Lawn Care Company

After serving Colorado Springs for years, we know how to take care of and grow lawns and trees in our Colorado climate. While most believe that planting a tree is as simple as digging a hole, placing a tree, and shoveling dirt over it, there is more to planting a tree. As you read above, there are nine definitive steps that call play a role in making sure your tree lives a long, healthy life. Want to speak to the experts at Integrated Lawn & Tree Care? Call us today!

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