How to Plant a Tree

Learn how planting trees and caring for trees save you money.

| March/April 2015

  • Planting trees gives a homestead personality.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Staking trees when planting or transplanting trees provides support in windy locations.
    Photo by
  • Caring for trees is a worthwhile investment.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson
  • A hole double the width of the root ball is sufficient when planting trees.
    Photo by Rick Wetherbee
  • Planting trees provides for the next generation.
    Photo by
  • Mulch provides needed protection from harm including transplant shock in the early years.
    Photo by Perry Mastrovito

Trees play a vital role in providing habitat, beauty and utility in our surroundings. Deciduous trees disrupt the wind and shade our homes from the hot summer sun, and during winter months, bare trees allow sunshine through and still offer some protection from the wind. Many coniferous evergreens grow large enough to serve as windbreaks and offer all manner of cover for wildlife. Flowering trees including dogwood, cherry, lilac and tulip soften the landscape by providing beautiful living art, while fruit and nut trees produce nutritious foods.

A tree is a lifetime investment that may not pay the biggest dividends for generations. However, like many long-term investments, with thoughtful choosing, careful planning, care and nurturing, trees will provide substantial value to your landscape from the very beginning. It’s a long-term proposition that can pay off big-time if you follow these tips.

Location is everything

For the best return on your tree investment, choose the species or cultivar and its intended location carefully. Begin by determining the tree’s growth habit, mature age and size in your region, tendency to send large limbs crashing to the ground as it matures, and the likelihood that its roots will seek out and clog sewer lines or leach fields. If you don’t enjoy cleaning gutters, keep things like seed production and leaf drop in mind as well.

Does your tree like full sun, partial sun or a shady spot? Does it have a taproot? How does it do in clay soils, wet soils, dry soils, sand, etc. — you get the picture. Once you know what you wish to plant, it’s time to locate it.

Depending on the size of the tree and whether it is dormant bare-root stock, balled and burlapped, container grown, or freshly dug with a tree spade, you will need to create a relatively large hole to receive the tree. Ideally you will locate it away from overhead powerlines and cables, and a safe distance from buried pipelines, powerlines, fiber-optic cables and other subterranean obstacles. (Call 811 to be sure.) If there are buildings in the vicinity, plan to locate your tree a minimum of 18 inches plus half the mature canopy width away from the structure. If your species is prone to blowing over in certain circumstances, you may want the tree to be at least as far from the structure as its eventual mature height. Plan now and prevent heartache or worse later.

Avoid the shock

Whether transplanted as dormant stock or while actively growing, trees are subject to incredible stress when they are plunked into a new location. Bare root stock must be transplanted while dormant in the early spring or late fall/early winter — the advantage being that the roots will have some time to adapt before the tree puts a lot of uptake demands on them. Dormant balled and burlapped or container-grown stock will experience less trouble adapting to the new location, assuming you prepare the site well — but all dormant transplants still need watering and careful attending during their first few growing seasons. Transplanting actively growing stock requires diligence and care to keep them healthy, since they will need to adapt to their new location and continue to maintain the leaf structures already in place. In any case, newly transplanted trees will be vulnerable to wind, water shortages, insects and you name it for a couple of years.   



September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

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