How to Plant Trees & Shrubs

Step 1: Dig the planting hole as deep as the existing rootball (the clump of soil surrounding the roots), and at least twice as wide. Loosen the soil on the sides of the hole with a shovel or spade fork, especially if your soil is heavy clay.

Step 2: Container Trees & Shrubs:
Lay the container on its side and gently slide the rootball out. Fiber containers may be sliced open with a sharp knife and peeled
away. Loosen the roots slightly to encourage their growth into the surrounding soil. If the roots are still soft and fibrous, this can be done by crumbling away an inch or so of the container soil from around the outside of the ball and pulling the roots out. If there is a tight circle or mat of roots, break them up by slicing vertically through the lower half of the rootball with a spade or knife.

Balled & Burlapped Trees & Shrubs:
Remove the fiber container if it can be done WITHOUT letting the wrapped rootball fall apart. Set the rootball in the hole (in its final
position) and gently peel the burlap wrapping from the top half. Cut off the excess or fold it down beneath the bottom half of the
rootball. Be sure to remove all twine or wires from around the trunk of the tree and top of the rootball. Synthetic burlap should be totally removed.

Bare Root Trees & Shrubs:
Dormant season only (January-March). Keep roots covered and moist (or soak overnight) before planting. Prune out damaged or rotted roots. Form a cone of loose soil in the center of the hole and spread the roots over it. Position the plant’s height so that the crown (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly below the finished soil surface, and rotate the plant to where you feel it looks best. If the trunk has a conspicuous graft, it should be kept at least 1 inch above the soil surface.

Step 3: Fill the planting hole and cover the rootball with native soil (dug from the hole) that has been amended with 20% planting compost or Soil Building Conditioner. It’s good to mix the amended soil with native soil along the sides of the planting hole as much as possible. Build up a ring of soil at the edge of the planting hole to form a saucer to hold surface water in the root zone. 

Step 4: Water slowly and deeply to thoroughly soak both the full depth of the rootball and the surrounding, disturbed, soil. Newly planted trees and shrubs (including drought tolerant types) should be deeply and regularly watered for at least 2 full years. Deep watering means thoroughly soaking the soil within the plants canopy to a depth of several feet, which can take 1-2 hours of slow watering to achieve. Allow the soil surface to dry before the next deep watering.

Deep watering encourages deep root growth, which will promote drought tolerance, deep nutrient uptake, stability and discourage root rots from developing. Poor watering practices (shallow, insufficient, or too frequent) are the #1 cause of death and decline in woody plants.

Step 5: Mulch an area extending around the base of the plant. Mulch layer 2-4 inches thick will help hold in soil moisture, keep down weeds, and protect the trunk from damage. To avoid crown rot, keep the mulch 6 to 8 inches away from direct contact with the trunk.

Step 6 (optional): Stake young trees if showing susceptibility to wind or other damage, particularly in exposed areas such as parking strips. Drive two strong stakes (such as wood 2x2’s, re-bar, or manufactured stakes) into firm ground about 1 to 2 feet out from the trunk, and perpendicular to the prevailing wind. Stakes should be tall enough to be tied at 1/2 to 2/3 of the tree’s height, up to about 5 feet. Tie stakes to the tree loosely with a non-chafing material, such as plastic “chain lock”, rubber tree ties or old bicycle tire tubes. The tree should be able to move freely in most winds but not blow over in a storm. Trees staked for too long or too tightly end up relying on the staking and can’t support themselves without stakes. When staking, the goal is to stake as loose as possible for as short a time as possible.

Step 7 (optional): Prune only to remove dead or broken branches, or to make a few training cuts. Check trees annually for pruning needs.