If you want your newly planted tree to
grow and be healthy, you can't just stick
it in a hole in the ground and hope for
the best. We'll show you how to plant a
tree that will thrive, extend its roots and
enhance your landscape. The tree
shown is a Summercrisp pear tree, but
the steps are the same for any variety.
Pick a tree variety that grows well in
your area and soil conditions (a nursery
can help you with this). If you're
planting a fruit tree, find out if you
need to plant a second one within a certain
distance for pollination. And ask
the nursery (or research online) how
big the tree will be when it's full grown.
Then plant it far enough away from
your house so that once the tree reaches
maturity, its branches won't scrape
against your siding or roof.
Plant in the spring or fall
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Photo 1: Take off the plastic
Remove the plastic when you get home, even if you won't
plant the tree until the next day. The plastic can suffocate the
tree if it's left on too long.
Plant a tree in early spring before the
buds open or in the fall before the tree
goes dormant. A tree planted during
the hot summer months can get
stressed and is harder to keep watered.
If you insist on a summer planting,
keep the soil moist but not sodden.
During dry, sunny weather, that might
mean watering a few times a day. If you
have clay soil and the ground stays damp 3 in. below the
surface, you can cut back on watering.
When you buy your tree, ask the nursery to wrap it with
plastic for the drive home (our local nursery did it for free).
The branches are grouped tightly together so they won't be
damaged by wind in the back of a pickup or during unloading.
The plastic also keeps the soil from spilling out of the
container (although a little water may leak).
Place the tree on its side in the truck bed, strap down the
container and wedge scraps of wood under both sides of the
container to keep it from rolling around during the drive
home. If you're hauling the tree in a van or an SUV, put plastic
on the floor to catch any water leaks.
Dial before you dig
It's always a good idea, and in some areas required by law, to get the utilities marked before you start digging. You don't want to get the shock of your life as you’re digging the hole for your new tree! Just dial “811” on your phone to get routed to your local “One Call Center.” Local operators will take your location information and make arrangements to have all buried utilities marked. Make sure you call 48 to 72 hours before you plan to dig to allow enough time for all the local utility companies to show up. For more information go to call811.com
Dig a hole the right size and depth
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Photo 2: Grab a shovel and start digging
Make the hole two to three times as wide as the root ball. As
you dig, place the soil on a tarp to make backfilling easier and
to avoid damaging surrounding grass.
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Photo 3: Break up the root clump
Gently unwind and spread out the roots so they don't go into
the hole as a big ball. But be careful not to break or pull off the
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Photo 4: Check the root collar height
Lay your shovel across the hole to make sure the root collar is at
the right height (ours is too low). If needed, adjust the hole depth.
You want to plant the tree so its root collar—the trunk flare
right above the root system—is about 1 in. above ground
level. Take the tree out of the container (slitting the container
sides) or cut away the wire cage and burlap. Then measure
the distance from the root collar to the bottom of the root
ball and dig the hole to that depth. Dig the hole two to three
times as wide as the root ball.
Don't rely on the container size, the wires or the wrapping
around the roots as an indication of the depth you want to
plant your tree. If the tree is planted too shallow, the roots
could be exposed above the ground, especially as the tree
grows. But don't plant it too deep either (a common mistake!).
The roots need oxygen to get established, and there's
more oxygen near the surface.
Before placing the tree in the hole, break up the tightly
wound root ball and carefully fan out the roots. Don't pull
too hard or the roots will break. It's OK if some of the soil in
the root ball crumbles and falls off. It'll help free the roots.
Pulling apart the root ball encourages the roots to expand
into the surrounding soil.
You'll have to be careful when you handle the tree, or
what's left of the root ball will fall apart and you could tear
the smaller roots. Never pick up the tree by its trunk.
Instead, support the tree from under or from the side of the
root ball. Set the tree in the center of the hole.
Keep the root collar about 1 in. above ground level. If it's
too high, remove the tree and dig the hole a little deeper. If
the trunk flare is too low, add soil under the roots.
Mix the backfill
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Photo 5: Backfill around the tree
Shovel in the soil evenly around the roots and make sure to keep
the tree straight as you fill in around it. The tree will move easily
until the hole is completely filled.
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Photo 6: Run water in the hole
Once the hole is about half filled in, run water around the roots to
eliminate air pockets in the soil.
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Photo 7: Protect the bark
Slip a corrugated tree guard over the trunk. It'll keep weed trimmers,
lawnmowers and pesky animals from damaging the bark.
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Photo 8: Surround the tree with mulch
Mulch helps maintain moisture in the soil, and it also helps
insulate the ground, keeping it cooler in the summer and
warmer in the winter.
Don't backfill with only compost manure or peat moss. The
roots will be so comfortable in the nutrient-rich backfill that
they'll never penetrate the native soil outside the hole.
Mix the backfill material in a wheelbarrow. Use these proportions:
two-thirds soil that you dug out of the hole and
one-third compost manure. Mix them with a hoe, then use a
spade to backfill around the tree. Soak the hole as you backfill.
Add backfill until the hole is filled.
Weed trimmers and rodents and other animals can kill a
tree by damaging the bark. Install a plastic guard (about
$3.50 at nurseries) over the trunk to protect it. Besides safeguarding
against weed trimmer strings and critters, the
guard protects young trees against “frost cracking,” which
happens when the side of the tree that gets more sun
grows at a faster rate than the shady side.
Spread a 2- to 3-in.-thick bed of mulch to help the soil
hold moisture and to keep weeds from growing. Keep it
at least 3 in. from the tree trunk. Mulch, like other organic
matter, can have bacteria and fungus, which can
spread to the tree and harm or even kill it.
Check your soil before watering
There's no magic formula for how much water to give
your tree in its first year. Too little water can kill a tree.
But overwatering in clay soil can cause root rot, which
can also kill it. The best thing to do is to check your soil
conditions. Poke a popsicle stick into the ground near
the tree. If the soil is damp down 3 in., you're giving it
enough water. If not, water once or twice a day—whatever's
needed to keep the soil damp but not saturated.