Do’s and Don’ts of Planting Trees and Shrubs

In this article I would like to discuss the do’s and don’ts of planting that specimen tree that will determine its survival for years to come.

When you consider the activity of planting a tree or bush, the first thing to think about is where to plant it. Some zoning and neighborhood associations have rules about the types of trees you can plant and where you can plant them. Also consider right-of-way and property lines. Watch the space to see how much sun it gets. That’ll be important when you select your tree. All the trees at the garden center have tags that specify things such as sun or shade requirements. They’ll also tell you the size of the mature tree so you know how far to plant from buildings, fences, landscaping or overhead wires. The tags also have information about the right growing zone for each tree. Your local garden center plants are selected for the climate in your area. The native trees are best.

While the steps below focus on planting trees, the basic instructions for selecting, placing and planting shrubs are the same.

A good time to plant is in the fall or early spring, so the tree has time to acclimate before the freezing weather of winter or dry summer. You’ll also find a wider selection of trees in the garden center at these times. In warmer climates, trees can be planted in winter.

Once you have your trees and locations, it’s time to plant.

The first step in planting successfully is to consider the level of your area. If you are planting at a slope, level the planting area to keep all of the roots at the correct depth. Then dig the hole about two times the width and the exact depth of the container. Loosen the soil at the bottom and sides of the hole.

In step two, as you dig out the hole, break up the soil you remove from it and save that naturalized soil for backfill. Your tree will typically grow better in native soil than in bag soil. It’s important to use this soil because it contains all the good nutrients nature provides; not some artificial chemicals produced in a factory and even less actual soil like stuff found in the bagged soil product. Double-check that the hole is deep enough by temporarily placing the container with the tree in the hole. Then pull the container out and add some water to the hole to moisten soil at the bottom. Remember to pick up the tree from the bucket not by pulling up on the trunk of the tree. Pulling on the trunk could unnecessarily damage the root and tree connection.

In step three, remove the container by cutting it on two sides. Hold the tree by the root ball and place it in the hole. Gently loosen the roots to help them grow out. Make sure that the trunk is straight and the top of the root crown is even with the ground. Avoid stepping on the root system next to the trunk as this could damage the tree.

For step four, backfill the hole with soil, filling all around the roots. Don’t mound soil against the trunk. Gently tamp the soil to remove air pockets.

Step five calls for adding about 2 inches of mulch on the dug-up area, but don’t pile it against the trunk. This will help hold moisture and protect the roots in cold climates. See your local hardware mulch buying guide to learn about different types of mulch. There is a degree of acidity that a mulch provides. Different mulch release acidity at different rates. The guides will make suggestions about which mulch is best for the type of tree or bush you are planting.