Tree Planting

No shade tree? Blame not the sun but yourself.
– Ancient Chinese

Success in tree planting is not measured by just getting trees in the ground “green side up.” It is measured in how well the tree does over time. After thoughtful selection of the location and type of tree to plant, success depends on choosing a healthy tree from the nursery.

Choosing a tree from the nursery: Unless you have selected species that is typically multi-stemmed, look for a tree with a straight, single stem and good overall form. If it will be a street tree, look for branching high enough for pedestrians to walk beneath. Inspect the tree to make sure it does not have dead bark, cankers, or signs of insects or diseases. Other things to avoid:Severe pruning cuts Paint on wounds or pruning cuts Tight, vertical branch connections where bark is squeezed between two branches or between the trunk and the branch

Planting time: The ideal time to plant is during the dormant season – in fall after leaf drop or early spring. However, healthy trees that have been properly cared for in the nursery can be planted throughout the growing season. Care must also be taken in transporting and storing the tree until you are ready to plant it. Keep the tree in a shaded place and keep the root ball well watered. Do not unwrap or un-pot the root ball until the hole is ready for the tree.

Before digging, call 1-800-428-4950 to have all underground utilities located

City Standards for tree planting are Community Canopy's planting details for containers, B&B, and bare root trees.

Gathering the tools: Which tools are needed depends somewhat on whether you have purchased a containerized tree, a tree whose roots are "B&B" (balled & burlapped), or a bare-root tree.

  • Gloves
  • Large spade or shovel
  • Tarp to hold soil
  • Measuring stick
  • Heavy duty wire clippers (B&B trees)
  • Small pruning saw or pruning shears
  • Sharp knife or heavy duty scissors
  • Stakes and strapping (if needed)




  • Digging the hole
    A good planting hole cannot be too wide, but it can be too deep. Dig the hole at least 3 times the width of the root ball. This is allows the growing roots to get a good start in establishing themselves. Before determining the depth of the hole, find the point where the tree trunk widens to become the major roots (trunk flare).  Dig the hole only as deep as is needed to plant the trunk flare at grade.  Leave the bottom of the hole firm.  Dig the hole only as deep as the root ball and leave the bottom firm. This will keep the tree from settling in too deeply after planting. Break up compacted soil. Do not add amendments to the soil unless it is really poor soil. If you must add amendments, dig up a much larger area and work the amendments throughout. Be sure that the sides of the hole are not “glazed” by your shovel. If so, rough up the sides to give growing roots a “toe hold”.

  • Measure twice
    Before placing the tree in the hole, measure one more time be sure that you will not be planting the tree too deeply. The tree should be planted with the trunk flare at grade. It is better to plant a little high (1 to 2 inches above grade) than too deeply. If the hole is too deep, add soil and compact it to the correct depth before planting the tree.

  • Placing the tree
    If trees are container grown, you can slip off the container at the edge of the hole just before placement if the root ball is firm. Otherwise, cut off the container once the tree is placed. Lift the tree into the hole by the root ball, not the trunk. Position the tree in the center of the hole. Check to see if the tree is oriented well. (All of us have a “good” side). View the tree from several directions to be sure that it is straight.

  • Get the roots ready
    For trees in wire baskets, cut and remove the wire. Cut and remove all strings, burlap or plastic container. If removing the burlap from underneath the tree is a problem, just be sure that it is cut down and removed from the top 1/2 to 2/3 of the root ball. Most of the roots on newly planted trees develop in the top 12” of soil. The remaining burlap will eventually rot away. Prune back dead or crushed roots, making clean cuts. Straighten out or cut circling roots. This is particularly important in container grown trees that have been in the container for a while.

  • Get it straight
    Check the tree one more time to be sure that it is straight!

  • Fill the hole
    Begin refilling the hole with soil. Fill approximately 1/2 full, gently tamping and firming the soil around the root ball as you go. Do not stomp! The objective is to eliminate large air pockets that will cause roots to dry out. However, roots do require oxygen movement through the soil structure, so overly packed soils are not good either. Watering at this point will help settle the soil around the bottom part of the roots. Once the water drains, continue to alternate adding soil and watering to settle it in. Be sure the top of the root ball (at the point of trunk flare) is at or slightly above the level of the soil when you are done. 

  • Remove tree wrap, tape, string, and all tags
    Tree trunks are only wrapped to protect them in transit. Also remove any branches damaged during transit and planting. Do not do any additional pruning until the tree has had at least a year to establish.

  • Stake only if necessary
    Trees develop stronger trunks and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting. Stake only if the tree is bare root or exposed to strong winds. Use two stakes, positioning them on opposite sides of the tree and in line with the prevailing wind. Use wide belt-like strapping that is flexible. Encircle the tree trunk low enough and loosely enough to allow some trunk sway, while still holding the tree upright and preventing the roots from moving. Remove the ties and stakes after a year of growth!

  • Mulch
    Apply a 2”–3” layer of organic mulch to the area around the base of the tree, leaving a 3” bare circle around the trunk itself. Mulch helps hold moisture, insulates the soil from extreme temperatures, and reduces competition from grass and weeds.

  • Follow-up Care
    Water regularly, but do not keep the soil soaked. Slow, deep watering a once or twice a week will probably suffice unless it is extremely hot and dry; Keep lawn mowers and string trimmers away from the tree to avoid wounding the trunk; Remove the stakes and strapping after one year unless the site is extremely windy. Do not stake longer than 2 years.