Plant a Tree or Shrub with Expert Tips from Tips Tree Planting

Plant a Tree or Shrub with Expert Tips from Tips Tree Planting

Trees are not only beautiful additions to our landscapes, but they also serve as important contributors to the health of our planet. With their ability to shade and cool our streets, provide habitat for wildlife, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, planting trees in our yards, neighborhoods, schools, and watersheds can have a significant impact. However, proper planting techniques are crucial to ensure the survival and long-term success of these trees. In this article, we will guide you through the process of planting a tree or shrub, providing you with tips from our years of experience at Tips Tree Planting.

Digging the Hole

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One of the most common mistakes in tree and shrub planting is planting too deep. To avoid this, follow these simple steps:

  1. Locate the point where the trunk flares out to join the roots. For balled-and-burlapped (B&B) trees, remove any twine and burlap around the base of the trunk. Gently push the soil away from the base of the trunk if necessary to find the flare.
  2. Measure the distance from the bottom of the root mass to the trunk flare. Dig the hole no deeper than this measurement, ensuring that the root mass sits on undisturbed soil. The trunk flare should be slightly above the existing soil grade once planting is complete.
  3. Dig a hole that is two to three times the diameter of the root ball or container, sloping the sides gently outward to the existing soil grade.


When it comes to moving your plant into the planting hole, it’s important to disturb the rootball as little as possible. Follow these tips:

  • For B&B trees and shrubs, lift them using the rope, burlap, or wire cage around the rootball. Avoid lifting the plant by the trunk, stems, or branches. Make sure the root system doesn’t dry out before or during planting.
  • The thinking on backfill soil has evolved in recent years. It is now considered best practice to leave the backfill unaltered or add minimal amendments. This encourages the roots to spread out into the native soil, promoting healthier growth. However, we do recommend adding mycorrhizal fungi to the backfill. These fungi form associations with plant roots, aiding in the extraction and absorption of minerals and water from the soil. This ultimately leads to better adaptation and tolerance to stressful environments for trees and shrubs. Additionally, bone meal can be added to provide essential minerals for sturdy root systems and enhanced plant growth.

B&B trees and shrubs

Follow these steps when planting B&B trees and shrubs:

  1. Place the tree in the center of the hole. If necessary, adjust or fill beneath the root ball with the backfill mix to straighten or stabilize the tree.
  2. Remove any twine or burlap from the base of the trunk and cut away any burlap on the top of the rootball. If needed, remove excess soil from the top of the rootball to expose the trunk flare.
  3. Use bolt cutters to remove as much of the wire basket as possible. Remove all rope, twine, and any nails holding the burlap together. While it’s okay to leave some burlap in the hole to decompose, ensure that all plastic or treated burlap is removed.

Potted trees and shrubs

For potted trees and shrubs, follow these steps:

  1. Tip the container on its side and slide the plant out. Lift the root mass, not the plant itself. In some cases, you may need to cut the container if the plant has become pot-bound.
  2. Tease the outer roots from the soil to encourage root growth. If the roots are tightly matted, use a knife to score the root mass in several places and gently loosen the root ball. Don’t worry, this won’t harm the plant and will actually promote new root growth.


Backfilling is the next crucial step in tree and shrub planting. Follow these steps:

  1. Add backfill soil to the planting hole until it reaches about halfway up the root ball. Use your foot or hands to firm the soil and eliminate air pockets. Ensure that the trunk is vertical and that the trunk flare will sit slightly above the soil grade once backfilling is complete. Continue adding backfill and packing it down until you reach the top of the root ball, being careful not to cover the trunk flare.
  2. Construct a 3″-4″ high ridge of soil around the outer edge of the planting hole. This ridge will create a basin that holds irrigation water and concentrates it over the roots. Fill the basin with water using a hose, allowing it to soak in. It’s important to ensure even watering, ensuring that the soil is drenched and any large air pockets are eliminated.
  3. Recheck that the trunk flare is completely exposed and that the top of the root ball has not been covered with additional soil. Remove any plant tags or labels from the tree.


Mulching plays a vital role in tree and shrub maintenance. Here’s how to properly mulch your planted tree or shrub:

  • Apply bark mulch or pine straw to a depth of 2″-3″ over the entire planting hole. Mulching helps conserve water and prevent weed growth. Remember to taper the mulch toward the base of the tree, but ensure it doesn’t touch the tree trunk.


Not all newly planted trees and shrubs require staking. Factors such as rootball stability, trunk size and strength, prevailing winds, and canopy size should be considered when deciding whether staking is necessary. When in doubt, consult a nursery professional.


We do not recommend fertilizing newly planted trees and shrubs during their first year of growth. It’s best to allow the plants to establish their root systems before introducing fertilizers.

Proper Watering

Water is crucial for the establishment of newly planted trees and shrubs. Use the chart below as a guideline for the amount of water needed, based on plant size:

  • Small shrub: 4-5 gallons per application
  • Large shrub: 7-10 gallons per application
  • Small trees (<2″ caliper): 7-10 gallons per application
  • Large trees (>2″ caliper): 10-20 gallons per application

Measurements can be made using an old 1-gallon plastic milk container. Fill the container with a slow trickle of water from a hose and take note of the time it takes to fill. Multiply that time by the number of gallons needed for your plant, and that will give you the duration you need to run the hose.

At Tips Tree Planting, we are passionate about trees and their impact on our environment. By following these planting guidelines, you can ensure the health and longevity of your trees and shrubs. For more expert tips and advice, visit Tips Tree Planting. Happy planting!

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