4 Things You Need To Know To Plant A New Tree

There’s a little more to planting a tree than just digging a hole.

August 22, 2017
planting a tree
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Planting a tree. It seems simple, right? For all intents and purposes your task is clear: dig a hole and stick your tree in it, leaf side up.  However, there are lots of insidious pitfalls to this process, all waiting to ruin this—your tree’s crowning moment. Planting your tree with care, properly, will set it up to flourish long years into the future. Here’s how to do it.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

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Choose the right spot

More than the hole digging, more than the years of watering ahead, site selection is the single most important part of your tree planting story. Envisioning a beautiful blossomer smack dab in the middle of your hot and sweaty yard? Pick a tree that will luxuriate in that heat and not languish away. Similarly, if there’s a shady back corner of the garden you want to see lit up with fruits or flowers, choose something that can tolerate those conditions (magnolias can be great for part shade). (Short on space? Go with one of these best native flowering trees for a small yard.) Before you buy a tree do an honest site assessment of the space available in your garden— what quality real estate do you have to offer? Is the ground full of clay? Sandy and dry? Is it seasonally moist or wet, wet, wet? The more information you can ascertain before you plant the better off your tree will be. (Not sure what kind of soil you have? Try these ten easy soil tests.)

Related: 5 Invasive Tree Species You Should Never, Ever Plant In Your Yard

tree root ball
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Dig the perfect hole

Almost anyone can stick a shovel in the ground and dig—but not all holes are created equal. Not when it comes to root balls, at least. Your hole should be the same depth as your tree’s root ball, with the soil coming just up to the base of the tree’s trunk when buried. Dig the hole wide enough so as to leave several inches of space all the way around the tree to encourage rapid, easy root growth (and rapid, healthy establishment). If your tree is a bare root seedling or sapling, make a mound of soil in the hole to drape the tree’s roots over. This will ensure none get pinched or broken in the burying process.

Related: 6 Best Trees For Organic Gardens

Pack down the soil

As you fill in the hole, tamp down the dirt. Over time, your tree will sink along with the dirt that surrounds it. Prevent this by packing in as much dirt as you can, and don’t be shy—really stamp on it. If you’re planting on a slope, stop every five minutes and step back to watch the angle of your tree’s trunk and make sure it’s still standing upright.

Related: Everything You Should Know To Grow Native American Fruit Trees

See how to build the simplest raised bed design ever:

Keep it hydrated

Planting is a major milestone in a tree’s (hopefully) long life, and it doesn’t come without its growing pains. Happily wedged in a pot for several years, moving a tree to the ground can be traumatic: in one sudden instant, most of the tree’s little root hairs (the minute filaments responsible for the majority of water uptake) are obliterated, and its leaves exposed to entirely different levels of light. Be kind to your tree and give it plenty of water in its early months to ensure a smooth, happy transition to the ground. Unless it’s raining frequently, your tree will need a long drenching drink every few days. Turning your hose on a trickle and leaving it by the tree for a couple of hours should do the trick.  Once your tree is established after a year or so, feed it if necessary. Contrary to popular belief, newly planted trees do not need to be fed. Fertilization will encourage shoot and leaf growth when the tree should be focusing on growing new roots! 

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