Planting New Trees

Ideally it is best to plant new trees during their dormant season, which means in the fall after the leaves have dropped, or in the early spring before buds break open. After choosing the tree you want to plant, and deciding on its location, be sure to check with JULIE first (online or call 811). It’s always wise to assume that you really don’t know where all the underground utilities may be, and JULIE works quickly to mark these for you. 

Trees that have been properly cared for at the garden center can be planted throughout the growing season. Now it’s your turn to give your tree proper care during planting. 


The hole should be 3 times the diameter of the root ball, and only as deep as the root ball. Locate the trunk flare. This is where the tree roots spread at the base of the tree. The trunk flare should still be partly visible after the planting is completed. Therefore it is most important to determine the proper planting depth. The majority of roots develop in the top 12” of soil (note diagram). Take the time to be sure you don’t plant your tree or bush too deeply. 


Next, be sure to straighten your tree. It is good to have a helper at this stage if you weren’t lucky enough to have one before. One person holds the tree as straight as possible and the other walks to different sides to be sure the tree is straight in its hole from all angles. 

Remove all wire as well as any string from the top third of the root ball. Now pack the soil around the root ball, eliminating any air pockets. Use water to help settle the soil a few inches at a time. Air pockets may cause the roots to dry out, so do this in several steps.. Your tree will probably not need to be staked. Only stake if absolutely necessary, and remove stakes as soon as it is practical to do so. 


Use 2-4”of mulch but it is important not to actually let the mulch cover the actual trunk of the tree. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked. When the soil is dry below the mulch, it’s time to water. Mulch is simply organic matter which acts as a blanket to hold moisture and protect the tree against harsh soil temperatures, whether cold or hot. The mulch also keeps the grass from growing close to the trunk of the tree, thus protecting the trunk from lawnmower blades. There are many choices for mulch including shredded bark, leaf litter, pine straw, wood chips and peat moss. Once again be sure not to let the mulch cover the actual tree trunk. Covering the trunk can lead to decay of the trunk’s bark. 


The soil around the tree should be moist but not soaking wet. Trees may require more watering during hot weather, and if there is no rain, water at least once a week, twice is better, more during hot weather. Check the soil beneath the surface of the mulch. When it is dry, it’s the signal to water. 


Unless branches were damaged there should be no need to prune the first year after planting. For more information about pruning, refer to our information on pruning young trees and pruning mature trees

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