Think of the tree you just purchased as a lifetime investment. How well your tree and investment grows depends on the type of tree and location you select for planting, the care you provide when the tree is planted, and follow-up care the tree receives after planting.
 


 
 


The ideal time to plant trees and shrubs is during the dormant season -- in the fall after leafdrop or early spring before bud-break. Weather conditions are cool and allow plants to establish roots in the new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth. However, trees properly cared for in the nursery or garden center, and given the appropriate care during transport to prevent damage, can be planted throughout the growing season. In either situation, proper handling during planting is essential to ensure a healthy future for new trees and shrubs. Before you begin planting your tree, be sure you have had all underground utilities located prior to digging.
 

If the tree you are planting is balled and burlapped, or bare rooted, it is important to understand that the tree's root system has been reduced by 90-95% of its original size during transplanting. As a result of the trauma caused by the digging process, trees will commonly exhibit what is known as transplant shock (TS). TS is indicated by slow growth and reduced vigor following transplanting. Proper site preparation before and during planting, coupled with good followup care will reduce the amount of time the plant experiences TS and will allow the tree to quickly establish in its new location. Carefully follow eight simple steps and you can significantly reduce the stress placed on the plant at the time of planting.

"It's better to put a $100 tree in a $200 hole than to put a $200 tree in a $100 hole."

  1. Dig a shallow, broad planting hole. Make the hole wide, as much as three times the diameter of the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball. It is important to make the hole wide because the tree roots on the newly establishing tree must push through surrounding soil to establish. On most planting sites in new developments, the existing soils have been compacted and are unsuitable for healthy root growth. Breaking up the soil in a large area around the tree provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil to hasten establishment.
  2. Identify the trunk flare. The trunk flare is where the roots spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted (see diagram). If the trunk flare is not partially visible, you may have to remove some soil from the top of the root ball. Find it so you can determine how deep the hole needs to be for proper planting.
  3. Place the tree at the proper height. Before placing the tree in the hole, check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth, and no more. The majority of the roots on the newly planted tree will develop in the top 12" of soil. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots will have difficulty developing due to a lack of oxygen. It is better to plant the tree a little high, 1-2" above the base of the trunk flare, than to plant it at or below the original growing level. This will allow for some settling (see diagram). To avoid damage when setting the tree in the hole, always lift the tree by the root ball, and never by the trunk.

The PHC Alternative

Maintaining mature landscapes is a complicated undertaking. You may wish to consider a professional Plant Health Care (PHC) maintenance program which is now available from many landscape care companies. Their program is designed to maintain plant vigor and should initially include inspections to detect and treat any existing problems which could be damaging or fatal. Thereafter, regular inspections and preventive maintenance will ensure plant health and beauty. Refer to our Plant Health Care brochure for more information.

This brochure is one in a series published by the International Society of Arboriculture as part of its Consumer Information Program. You may have additional interest in the following titles currently in the series: Insect and Disease Problems; Mature Tree Care; New Tree Planting; Trees and Turf; Benefits of Trees; Tree Selection; Plant Health Care; Avoiding Tree and Utility Conflicts; Recognizing Tree Hazards; Why Hire an Arborist; Buying High-Quality Trees; Tree Values; Pruning Young Trees; Pruning Mature Trees; Why Topping Hurts Trees; Pruning Young Trees; Pruning Mature Trees; Avoiding Tree Damage During Construction; Treatment of Trees Damaged by Construction.
 

Developed by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), a non-profit organization supporting tree care research around the world and dedicated to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees. For further information, contact: ISA, P.O. Box 3129, Champaign, IL 61826-3129, USA.

1995 International Society of Arboriculture.
UPDATED FEBRUARY 2000