The Right Way to Plant a Tree

Trees are available for planting in three forms: balled and burlapped, container grown, or bare rooted. Before buying any young tree, however, use the charts on pages 270 to 281 to find out which species thrive in your area. Prepare a soil mixture for the planting hole as you would for a shrub (page 92).


Bare-rooted trees, usually sold by mail-order nurseries, are generally smaller, younger, and less expensive than the others. Start such trees in the early spring, within a day or two of their arrival. The technique for setting a bare-rooted tree into the ground appears on the next page.

You can plant container-grown and balled and burlapped trees at any time of the year. A balled and burlapped tree is planted exactly as a similarly packaged shrub—as is a container-grown tree, once you have slipped the plastic pot from around the rootball as described opposite.

TOOLS Utility knife Pruning shears Spade 4-pound maul MATERIALS Tree protector 2-by-2 stakes Cloth strips Old garden hose Galvanized wire


Unless the tree has been container grown or pruned at the nursery, cut away about one-third of the branches (pages 98-101). Wrap a plastic tree protector around the base of the trunk to prevent damage to the lower bark (page 110).

Brace or guy trees in areas where high winds or playing children may loosen their roots (page 111). Never tie braces or guy wires taut; root systems strengthen faster when a tree can sway gently in the wind. Guying kits are available at garden centers. You can assemble a tree brace yourself using galvanized wire and pieces of old garden hose.

Finally, water a newly planted tree well; it needs the equivalent of an inch of rainfall a week during the growing season.



Trees from plastic pots

Slide the pot off the rootball, tapping or flexing the sides of the pot as necessary to loosen it. If the tree you buy has circling roots (left), gently unwind them. Cut off large curling and matted roots with pruning shears. With a utility knife or sharp kitchen knife, score the rootball 1 inch deep from top to bottom in four or five locations that are evenly spaced (inset). Plant the tree as shown for shrubs on pages 91-93.



Positioning the roots

Dig a planting hole (page 91) about one and a half times as deep as the length of the tree’s longest root; make the hole about as wide as it is deep. Pile soil in the center of the hole, then gently spread the tree roots over the mound. With a straight board as a guide (right), adjust the mound so the soil-level mark on the tree trunk falls no lower than ground level.

Filling in around the roots

Holding the tree vertically, scoop soil into the hole. Pack the soil gently but firmly around the roots to eliminate air pockets. Fill the hole two-thirds with soil, one-third with water. After the water has seeped away, add soil to ground level. Build a soil basin as shown on page 93, fill it with water, then mulch.




Protecting tender bark

Push back the soil at the tree trunk’s base to a depth of about 2 inches. Coil a plastic tree protector around the trunk (right). After installing the protector, slide it to the base of the tree. Replace the loosened soil. Tree protectors are designed to expand as the plant grows. At least once a year, check the protector for binding and loosen it as needed. Remove the protector after 2 to 3 years.

Bracing small trees

For a trunk less than 3 inches thick, position a pair of 6-foot, 2-by-2 stakes next to the planting hole. With a 4-pound maul, drive them at least 18 inches into the ground. Tie one end of a cloth strip near the top of one post. Loop the cloth once around the trunk, leaving about 1 inch of slack. Tie the other end of the cloth to the second post, again leaving an inch of slack. Remove the bracing when the tree is firmly rooted—no later than a year after planting.


Guying a tree

For trunks 3 inches or more in diameter, drive three notched stakes into the ground outside the planting hole. Thread the end of a guy wire through a 1-foot-long length of garden hose. Loop the hose around the trunk above a branch, then twist the wire around itself to secure the hose to the tree. Tie the other end of the wire to the notch in a stake. Add two more guy wires, then adjust all three of them to allow the tree to sway slightly.