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How do you plant a tree?

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Buying a tree can be expensive, especially if it is quite a large tree. To nurture the cutting or seed so it can grow into a sapling requires a considerable investment in time. Likewise, years might have been invested ensuring that it has the correct conditions and amount of water to grow to a small tree. So, the result is that an established tree can be expensive.

So, the last thing that you want to do is waste that effort and money!

I have explored what experts in the field say is the best way to plant a tree, and I have come up with this 6-step process that I would like to share with you:

Contents of the 6-step Process

The 6-step Process

Step 1 - Research what you want

We moved into a new home when I was young. The previous owner had sought a little privacy, so he had planted some quick growing conifer trees. We made it our first task to cut down all 8 conifers. But why you may ask?

Making the wrong decision about which tree to plant

The problem was that by the time he had moved, these trees were taller than the house. Moreover, the roots had found their way into the drains and the garden was bare of any other living plant.

The trees had either blocked out the light or made the soil too acidic for anything else to grow.

Due to his rushed decision, the previous owner hadn’t given much thought of the consequences that would arise from planting the trees. He didn’t realise he had planted the trees too close to the house. He didn’t realise he was required to maintain and cut the trees back.

This example shows significance of doing thorough research prior to planting your tree. You’ll thank yourself in the future!

Making the right decision

Now, in order to make the sensible choice about which tree to plant, you need to consider the size the tree will grow to. As an example, if a tree is likely to grow 80 feet tall when mature, then it needs to be at least 20 feet away from the house (A rule of thumb is to use a ratio of 4:1 to be on the safe side!).

It is never wise to plant a tree near drains because the roots will spread in search for water. Additionally, some types of tree are a little more eager to do this than others.

Knowing the type of soil, the drainage or amount of irrigation a tree likes is all especially important to check.

You should understand the kind of canopy the tree will create. A wide canopy in combination with a fairly height might generate too much shade. This is important to think about and research. Lawns, for instance, struggle to grow under a shady tree.

Last, think about the mess the tree will make. A deciduous tree will drop all its leaves in Autumn. Some trees have blossom, that once it dies off go everywhere. Furthermore, there are the trees that have enough seeds to feed an army of squirrels, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing. It is something that you should consider when planting a tree.

Step 2 - Buying the tree

Once you have decided on the variety of tree, you need to buy one, unless of course you grow it yourself from a seed or cutting.

What is the right time of year to plant a tree?

Depending on the tree you choose to buy, you will need to understand the best time of year to plant it. It differs slightly for each type of tree, moreover, it will depend to a certain extent where you are in the world. The closer you are to the poles, the earlier Autumn arrives, and the later spring arrives.

From what I have found here are some of the timings for some common trees

best time to plant trees

How to pick a healthy tree to buy

When you buy a tree, you want to buy the healthiest specimen you can. This will give it a fighting chance to make it and allow it to flourish into a healthy tree.

You need to look for trees that are well balanced. That is that the shape of the tree is symmetrical in its outline when viewed from 360 degrees. This can usually be done by slowly spinning the tree around. This shows whether it has had stems broken off when younger.

You also need to check that the top leader, the stem growing from the top of the tree, is strong and healthy and growing as straight up as possible. This will help ensure that your tree grows evenly once planted.

Step 3 - Digging the hole

As part of the research in step 1, you have already decided where the tree is going to go. So, now we shall dig!

How big should I get the hole to plant my tree?

First, you need to remove the tree from its pot or the packaging around the root bowl.

You need to examine the roots. Very often the roots will have formed clumps where they have wanted to push out but encountered the side of the pot. Carefully untangle the roots as much as possible. This will allow the roots to grow out much quicker.

dig a hole for a tree

Once you have done this, we need to work out the size of the hole.

We want to make sure that the tree is sitting on a firm base. So, the hole should be no deeper than the root system and the circumference of the hole should be 2-3 times bigger than the root bowl. This is so that the tree can push out its roots easily, allowing it to “take” more quickly. It will also ensure that it will be well watered, not too little, and not too much.

Tip: make a crown at the bottom.

Another tip – try to ensure that the bottom centre of the hole is a crown so that it gradually tappers down to the sides. It is quite difficult to accomplish this, as the soil will often fall back in at the sides and do the reverse.

The primary benefit of forming a crown at the bottom of the hole is in the case of over-watering. Having the crown will mean that the roots of the tree are not sitting in water (Assuming that the water will find it harder to soak through the undisturbed soil!).

Step 4 - Setting the tree

Now that we have dug the hole, we can put the tree in the hole and find its best position.

We want to make sure that we get the balance right so that the shape of the tree will suit its position. For example, if the tree has branches that are mainly on one plane, this might be more attractive if they are facing the main viewing point, making the tree look broader.

Once done, we need to introduce the supporting stake or stakes depending on the size of the tree and the openness of the area. If it is out in the open, it may require more support to counter the wind.

newly planted tree

It is best to put the stakes in the ground before covering the roots to ensure that they don’t damage the tree.

It might be worth removing the tree until the stakes are firm to ensure that we don’t damage the tree.

Step 5 - Filling the hole

Once we have positioned the tree correctly and have it supported with stakes, it is time to fill in the hole.

I always thought that it was a good idea to add fertiliser to the hole (e.g. mulch or compost). This is NOT common wisdom. The goal is for the roots to grow and spread, and digging a wider hole is the best way to do that. As mentioned in step 4, ensure there is a crown to prevent over-watering and running out of compost!

Adding the soil (Plus removing the air!)

Naturally, the next step is to fill the hole surrounding our tree with soil. But, in order to prevent the roots drying out and to allow them to grow, they need to be surrounded by soil we must remove any air pockets around the roots.

I would approach this by filling the hole with soil up to the halfway point. Then, pressing down the soil with my feet, being particularly careful not to damage the roots! Afterwards, I will drench the half-filled hole with water in an attempt to wash the soil to surround the roots (This is a quick drench you are not aiming to create a swamp!)

Once watered, finish filling the hole, press down the soil and water the soil once again.

Finishing touches

If you are like me, you like your garden to look nice. For the cherry on top, you can finish with covering the soil around the base of the tree with wood bark chippings or something similar.  Not only does this finishing touch look nice but the chippings will also help keep the soil moist.

Step 6 - regular watering

Our tree is planted! Hoorah, welcome to the club! However, we must not neglect this final step. In fact, it is essential to make sure that our newly planted tree has enough water. Little and often is the best, but this will depend on the time of the year and the climate. Be sure to use our Tree A-Z to find this out for your tree!

It’s worth noting that a lot of experts recommend setting up an automated system, even if it is just for the first few months. There are two common ways. First, a sprinkler. Secondly, there are special irrigation hoses available that allow small amounts of water to seep into the ground. The benefit of both of these systems is that you are able to control these by battery operated timers. This means you can set the water to come on at certain times of the day (Twice a day is suggested), and you don’t need to remember to do it yourself!


  • Improve your garden
    Having trees in your garden can really make a difference to its character. It will improve the view; it will encourage more wildlife into the garden, and more trees can only be a good thing.
  • Careful Research always pays off
    With careful research, you can select a suitable tree and plant it in an equally suitable location. Planting it correctly now will steer you clear from any unwanted consequences.
  • Keep growing your knowledge
    On a final note: whilst researching for this post, I came across this useful YouTube video that I thought I would share with you guys. How To Plant A Tree The Right Way - 7 Steps To Getting It Right Every Time

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