How to Plant a Maple Tree

Fall is the perfect time of year to plant your new maple tree — or any tree, for that matter!

Next Project
Time

A few hours

Complexity

Beginner

Cost

$51–100

Introduction

The key to a successful adult tree is properly preparing the hole for the sapling. Setting the baby maple tree at the right depth and surrounding it with plenty of loose soil creates a good environment for root growth; water, sun and an annual dose of fertilizer will do the rest.

Tools Required

  • Spade
  • Stainless steel scissors

Materials Required

  • 4x4 (1)
  • Sapling tree
  • Wood mulch

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Pick an Area that Drains Well

  • Choose a sunny location. You're looking for a spot where water doesn't pool after a heavy rain.
    • Pro Tip: Understand that a maple will be a robust tree at maturity, so be sure to consider the location of nearby trees, buildings and power lines. 

Step 2

Dig a Drainage Test Hole

  • Dig a hole that's one foot deep and one foot square.
  • Fill the hole with water and leave it alone for about an hour.
    • If there's still water in the hole, you have heavy, poorly-draining soil. But don't worry — you don't have to move your tree (see below). 

Step 3

Dig a Permanent Hole

  • Dig a hole that's one to two feet wider than the root ball and as deep as the height of the root ball.
    • Pro Tip: If you have poorly draining soil, dig your hole only two-thirds the height of the root ball and then heap dirt over it before mulching. That way, some water is directed away from the hole and the root ball won't drown in trapped water. 
  • Maple tree seedlings will be sold in a plastic container or bundled in burlap. Use the tip of your shovel to perforate the sides of the bundle — especially when planting in heavy soil.
    • Pro Tip: Carry the maple tree by picking up the container or the burlap sack. Never carry the tree by the trunk; you could damage delicate roots.

Step 4

Plant Your Tree In the Hole

  • Lower your seedling into the hole.
    • If your seedling is wrapped in organic burlap, lower the entire root ball into the hole.
      • Burlap trees usually come with a wire basket, but you can leave that in place; the roots will grow through it.
    • If your seedling is wrapped in synthetic burlap, cut all of it away after you lower it into the hole. 
    • If your seedling was grown in a container, cut away the sides of the container and peel them back to expose the root ball. Then lift the ball from the container and lower it into the hole. 

Step 5

Fill In Around Your Seedling

  • Hold the maple tree seedling straight while you fill the hole with soil.
  • Tamp the soil down around the ball with the end of a 4x4 until the soil level is about three-fourths the depth of the hole.
    • Be careful not to damage roots in this step!
  • Cut away the exposed burlap in the top one-fourth of the hole.
  • Fill the hole with water to allow the soil to settle and to remove trapped air.
  • After the water drains, finish filling the hole with soil and lay a three- to six-inch bed of mulch around the base of the trunk to help retain soil moisture.
    • Pro Tip: Always use native soil to fill around the root ball. Filling with enriched soil will pamper the roots, and they'll refuse to penetrate poorer surrounding soil to establish a good root base.

Step 6

Refuse Fertilizer This Year

  • Avoid fertilizing your maple tree this fall. Instead, apply a 10-10-10 fertilizer next spring and every year thereafter.

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