How to Plant a Tree the Right Way – 7 Steps for Guaranteed Success

How to Plant a Tree the Right Way – 7 Steps for Guaranteed Success

With a little luck and good timing, sometimes simply sticking a tree in the ground and walking away can be enough for it to survive. But knowing how to plant a tree the right way will ensure success every time. In my experience as a passionate gardener with years of trial and error, I have discovered 7 essential steps for planting success. These steps will be your guide to creating a thriving and beautiful tree. So whether this is your first tree planting or you are already a seasoned planter, keep reading to learn how to plant a tree the right way.

The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Trees (and shrubs) can be planted any time of the year when you can dig the proper planting hole. However, there are better times than others for multiple reasons. The ideal time to plant a tree is during the fall or early spring. By planting in these seasons, you allow the tree to establish its roots before the harsh conditions of summer arrive.

How to Plant a Tree the Right Way – Follow these Seven Important Steps

Step 1: Prepare the Proper Planting Hole

When preparing the hole for planting, make it three times wider than the current root mass but never deeper than the plant was previously growing. Pay attention to the flare of the trunk near the soil level and avoid burying it. Nurseries sometimes place plants in containers too deeply, so always check for the base of the trunk flare and true surface roots.

Step 2: Plant High

Place trees and shrubs in their new environment with up to 25% of the root ball higher than the surrounding soil level. Then, taper soil up to cover all the roots and add a generous layer of mulch. Avoid planting at grade as newly disturbed soil tends to settle, potentially leading to root rot or disease. Planting slightly high allows for proper drainage.

Step 3: Inspect the Roots and Disturb When Necessary

Once the plant is out of its container, inspect the roots. If they are densely bound in a circular pattern, it is vital to break this pattern to prevent future problems. Break up the root mass to create new opportunities for non-circular root development. Be gentle but thorough in disturbing the roots.

Step 4: Don’t Amend the Soil

Contrary to traditional planting methods, contemporary research suggests that you should not amend the hole with additional organic material unless you plan to amend the entire area where roots will grow. Roots growing in amended soil rarely venture into harder native soil, leading to reduced growth. Simply break up the clumps in the existing soil and backfill.

Step 5: Eliminate Air Pockets

To eliminate air pockets around the roots and ensure good soil-to-root contact, add a stiff spray of water to the hole after backfilling halfway. This helps saturate the soil and aids in proper root absorption. Water again gently but thoroughly once all the soil is in place.

How to Plant a Tree the Right Way – 7 Steps for Guaranteed Success

Step 6: Add Mulch

Starting about two inches from the trunk, place roughly two inches of organic matter such as shredded leaves, ground bark, or nuggets around the plant. Mulch helps retain moisture and keeps the roots cooler, which is crucial for newly planted trees.

Step 7: Water Properly Until Established

The most important task after planting is watering the tree until it is established. This can take weeks to months or even a year or more. Slow and deep irrigation is key to allow the roots to absorb the moisture. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are the best methods for proper watering and establishment.

One of the best time-saving techniques is to use soaker hoses and/or drip irrigation combined with portable battery-operated timers. This allows for automatic watering, ensuring consistent and efficient hydration.


If you plan to fertilize, it’s best to wait until your trees or shrubs have successfully established themselves in their new environment. Concentrate on root development first and use a slow-release, non-burning organic fertilizer to avoid overtaxing the plants.

Remember, while the steps mentioned above are crucial, monitoring your newly planted trees for signs of distress and making necessary adjustments in real-time will ultimately determine your tree’s success. With dedication and care, you can ensure your tree will live a long and happy life.

Join me this Earth Day and let’s all #PlantATree for a greener and healthier planet.

Tips Tree Planting