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How to Plant Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are the foundation plants of any landscape, providing structure and form. Follow these tips for planting to ensure beautiful and healthy trees and shrubs for years to come.

Select Your Trees or Shrubs

Begin by choosing where to plant your new tree or shrub. Observe how much sunlight the area receives and how much room your tree or shrub has to grow in. Read the label when you select a plant to check its mature size. This will ensure that you will not plant a tree or shrub that will outgrow your planting area, a common mistake. Younger, smaller plants are not only easier to plant, but grow more quickly than older, larger plants.

Trees and shrubs are available in three forms:

  • Bare-root plants are plants whose roots are covered in light packing material such as sawdust. They are planted while they are dormant.
  • Balled-and-burlapped plants are basically plants with soil and roots wrapped in burlap and tied with twine.
  • Container-grown plants are just that: plants grown in a container. They can be planted any time of year.

Prepare the Planting Site

Once you've selected the trees or shrubs you want, it's time to prepare the hole. You may be surprised to learn the size of the planting hole is critical to the growth and health of your trees and shrubs. The formula for the "perfect" hole is simple: Dig the hole three times wider than the rootball and at the same depth as the rootball. Digging a wide hole makes it easier for roots to grow outward, while digging the hole at the same depth as the rootball allows the roots to receive plenty of oxygen that's present in the top 2 ft. of soil.

Before planting:

  • Carefully remove any excess soil from on top of a tree's rootball until you notice the point where the trunk begins to flare out.
  • Prune any broken roots from bare-root plants. For container-grown plants, cut through any circling roots so that they have an easier time growing outward.
  • If the soil of you planting site is not well drained, amend the soil by mixing good topsoil with the existing soil. If the soil is well drained, do not amend it.

Handle with Care

When planting container-grown plants, don't make the mistake of lifting them by their trunk, since this causes damage to their roots. Instead, cut away the container from the rootball and use your hands to lift the plant out. Place balled-and-burlapped plants in the hole and then cut off the wrapping or wire and remove it from the hole.

After placing your plants in the planting hole, fill it with soil, tamp it down gently and water well. Water your new trees and shrubs deeply once a week. If needed, stake your new trees until they stand upright on their own.

It's never too early to start planning the kinds of trees and shrubs you want to add to your landscape.