Planting trees is an investment that cultivates big dividends, adding beauty, shade, and value to homes. Taking the time to plant trees properly and care for them correctly in their vulnerable first few years will provide a strong foundation for the tree to put down roots and grow along with your home and family.

Select a tree, a time, and a place. Generally speaking, trees should be planted during periods of moderate weather, when neither the rainfall nor the temperature will be too high or too low. In most of North America this means spring and fall are the optimal planting periods. Not all trees are ideal everywhere, though. Climate, soil type, and sun exposure are all things to take into account when deciding on what kind of tree to plant and where on your property it will work best. A certified arborist or other tree professional can visit your home before you buy to help map out the best locations and suitable varieties of trees for every corner of your yard.

Dig a hole. Excavation for a new tree is often the first place where homeowners go wrong. In many cases, the hole is dug too deep and too narrow to give the tree a good start in life. To get the proper size for the hole, you need to measure the root ball—the part of the tree that contains the roots—from its base up to the flare, which is the spot where the trunk begins to spread out into roots. The hole for the tree should be one to two inches less deep than the size of the root ball, but two to three times as wide. For example, if the root ball of your tree measures at 12 inches, you would dig a hole 10 to 11 inches deep and 24 to 36 inches wide. Be sure to keep the sod and soil removed from the hole on a plastic tarp nearby; this will be used as backfill once the tree is placed.

Remove the tree container. Before attempting to remove the tree from its container, set it as close as possible to the planting site. For trees in a plastic container, gently bang on the outside of the container to loosen the root ball, and while holding the tree in place, slide the bucket away from the root ball. If the tree is burlap wrapped, peel away the wrapping and cut any string or twine that is binding the root ball. Once the root ball is free, gently massage it to break up the dirt and loosen the roots. If there are any roots that are encircling the root ball, you will need to straighten them. Tug gently on those roots, and try to avoid cutting them.

Place the tree. Slide the tree into the hole, and position it so that it stands up straight; then backfill the hole about one-third of the way up the side of the root ball. Gently pack the dirt down to eliminate air pockets, and lightly water the soil. Continue to fill the hole, packing the dirt and applying a light watering after every few inches. Fill in the soil only up to the level of the root flare. When you are finished, the flare should still be slightly exposed.

Spread the mulch. Using the remaining fill dirt, build a slightly raised ring around the outer edge of the tree’s drip line; this will help to guide water to the root ball. Spread a two- to four-inch layer of mulch over the dirt, keeping the mulch at least three inches away from the trunk of the tree on all sides.

Keep up the care. Water the tree at least once a week; keep the soil moist, but do not soak the soil excessively. Overwatering can be just as harmful to the tree as underwatering. Visit our blog article on tree watering tips for more information on how to properly water your trees.

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Sources: Bartlett Tree Experts; International Society of Arboriculture; This Old House;

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