Tree Planting Tips: How And When To Plant Trees

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

Knowing how and when to plant trees is crucial to their success. Let’s look at the best time to plant trees and how to plant them correctly. Keep reading for some tree planting tips.

Trees are typically sold in containers, burlap sacks, or as bare roots. This is an important consideration when planting them.

  • Trees in containers should be carefully removed and inspected prior to planting. Check to ensure the roots are not rootbound and gently spread the roots apart.
  • Burlap-wrapped trees should be carefully unwrapped, removing the burlap completely and gently separating the roots prior to planting.
  • Bare root trees have no soil surrounding the roots as those in containers or burlap.

How to Plant Trees

Trees do not require deep planting. On average, holes should be about two or three times as wide as the root ball and slightly shallower. It’s also a good idea to roughen up the sides and bottom of the hole to make it easier for the tree’s roots to penetrate the soil.

Place the tree in the hole and take a step back to ensure it is not leaning before backfilling with soil. Since bare root trees cannot stand without help, it may help to create a mound of soil in the center of the hole. Gently situate the tree on top and allow the roots to hang down.

If the soil is difficult to work with, it can be amended with compost or well-rotted manure, which will also give the tree a healthy boost of fertilizer. Fill in around the tree only up to the root crown. Never leave any tree roots showing, as they will quickly dry up. Tamp gently as you go but try not to compress too hard; otherwise, it will become more difficult for water to reach the roots.

If necessary, you may need to stake the tree in place temporarily until the roots take hold. Water the tree thoroughly and cover the area with 2 to 4 inches of mulch, staying a couple inches shy of the trunk all around.

Best Time to Plant Trees

Climate is an important factor to consider when determining the best time of year to plant trees, as seasonal weather conditions often determine the appropriate planting time. Regardless of location, trees need adequate time to root, especially in areas with hot, dry summers. For this reason, in most areas, fall is the best time of the year to plant trees.

In some instances, however, the tree type may also determine the best time of the year to plant trees.

Instructions for Planting Tree Seedlings

When it comes to instructions for planting tree seedlings, keep in mind that tree seedlings should be treated differently than grown trees. The best time to plant trees is not the same as with seedlings. Tree seedlings should only be planted while dormant, usually between December and March in most places.

Make sure the roots are fibrous and moist. Dig a hole just large enough to accommodate the roots. Hold in place, with roots straight down, and backfill with soil just to the root collar. Tamp gently to prevent air pockets from forming. Water and mulch.

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Read more about General Tree Care

The Best Time of Year to Plant New Trees

Like any other plant, trees experience stress when they're transplanted. That's why it's important to plant trees when the stress is lowest and the opportunity for growth is greatest.

In general, the best time for planting trees is late winter or early spring. In temperate areas, this period is typically followed by a period of moderate weather during which the new transplant will have time to become established. If that does not fit your schedule, then aim for autumn.


  • Because the trunk is the most eye-catching feature of most birch trees, give it the attention it deserves with the right backdrop. Dark evergreens planted behind the trunks will show off the beauty of white forms dramatically, says Bartlett. Similarly, keep foreground plantings low so the full impact of the trunk can be seen from the ground up.
  • Planted as a single specimen, a birch creates an exceptional focal point in the garden or even in the center of a lawn. When given enough room, it will naturally form a broader, more rounded shape. And because the small leaves and delicate branching structure produce only light shade, it rarely inhibits the growth of underplantings.
  • A lighted birch can make a dramatic statement at night. The white bark glows brilliantly when lit from below. Make sure the fixture is hidden from sight and include some silver or white plants at the base of the tree (see Creating Night Garden Drama).
  • Birch look stunning as borders for allées and walkways, especially when the trunks lean toward each other to create a gentle arch (see 10 Great Design Ideas for Trees).
  • Attractive underplantings for birch trees that grow well in slightly acidic soils and light shade include Vinca minor, blue wood sedge (Carex flaccosperma), dicentra, viola, hosta, rhododendron, lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina), and ajuga.

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Bare root trees are usually smaller than potted trees. A tree with a branch diameter of 1/2 -3/4 inch is an ideal size. Larger trees might be more tempting, but a small tree with a good root system is your best bet.

Look at the roots. They should be firm, relatively straight, and healthy-looking. Avoid roots that are broken, kinked, or growing in a circular shape as if they were confined to a too-small container. Lots of fibrous-looking roots are good—don’t pick a tree that has sad little nubby roots.

If you can’t plant your tree(s) right away, heel them in some moist sawdust, compost, peat moss, or coir. The roots should not be allowed to dry out, but you’ll want material loose enough so that you can remove the tree without damaging the roots. Try not to keep them heeled in for too long because they can easily dry out.

Before planting, trim any roots that were broken or damaged in transport. If there’s a root that’s especially long and healthy-looking, dig your hole to accommodate it instead of cutting it back. This will make your tree especially happy.

Take care not to bury the crown of the tree. This can be tricky, so I recommend enlisting help. One person (in our house, this is me) holds the tree at just the right height while the other carefully backfills the hole and gently tamps the soil around the roots.

Congratulations! Now you have what looks like a stick poking out of the ground. Put a couple of stakes around it so your kid doesn’t run it over with the lawnmower and by summer you will have a healthy tree that will fruit for you in a few years.

Looking for more gardening tips? Here’s how to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.

Planting and transplanting trees and shrubs

Plant a tree and watch it thrive for years to come!

Trees can be obtained from the nursery in many forms—bare root, container-grown, balled and burlapped, or dug by tree spade. Transplanting can be successful with all forms. Always put extra effort into the planting process to ensure a good start for your tree. The faster the root system is re-established, the better the chances for survival, and the more rapidly it will grow.

The Planting Site

Planting too deep is one of the most commonly encountered problems of landscape trees. It is not uncommon for trees to come from the nursery with the roots already too deep in the root ball. If the existing soil from the planting hole has a high clay content and is not friable (crumbly), it could be amended with up to 10-15 percent composted organic matter (leave mold or compost) before backfilling the hole.


In poorly drained, compacted soils, typical of modern housing developments, improved drainage may be needed. The planting hole can hold water like a bucket. More urban trees die from too much water than from not enough water. To test the drainage of your planting hole, pour a few gallons of water in the hole before planting the tree. If it hasn’t soaked in after an hour, you have a drainage problem. If the hole is near a slope, you may be able to run a small, underground drain pipe from the bottom of the planting hole to lower down on the slope.

Planting Procedure

The planting hole should be wider than the roots or root ball, two to three times wider is recommended.

The planting hole should only be as deep as the root ball. Don’t dig the hole any deeper than the depth of the roots or root ball because the tree needs support from underneath to stabilize it. Make sure the root collar, or area of the trunk that flares out near the soil line, is visible. The uppermost lateral roots should be just below the soil surface.

The sides of the hole should slope up gradually, making it saucer- or bowl-shaped.

Container or bare-root plants

Remove plant from container or packaging material and inspect the root system for dead or injured roots. Remove damaged roots and cut back spiraling roots to encourage proper development. Shaving a thin layer of roots from the root ball is the best way to eliminate roots circling along the container wall.

Center the plant in the planting hole. Keep it straight with the branches pointing in the direction you want them to grow.

Backfill the planting hole with soil, gently filling around the roots to eliminate air pockets.

With the extra remaining soil, create a saucer or water basin around the outer edge of the soil ball. This will keep water in the root zone and prevent run off. The basin should be removed before winter.

Balled-and-burlapped plants

Once the plant is in the hole, remove all twine and cut as much burlap as possible. If the plant is in a wire basket, remove as much wire as possible. Low-profile baskets are designed so no wire needs to be removed.

Work the prepared soil firmly around the soil ball, but do not compact.


Fertilization at the time of planting is not recommended. Until a root system is large enough to absorb more water research has shown that fertilization is ineffective until the tree has had time to partially re-establish its root system.

Season to Transplant

Spring is the best season for transplanting. The longer growing season allows roots to re-establish before winter. Fall also is considered a good time to plant, but allow 6 weeks before the ground freezes for plants to establish new roots. Some species do not transplant well in the fall (e.g., birch, magnolia, poplar, redbud). Summer planting is possible if a judicious watering program is followed, particularly if the plants were dug from the nursery in spring or grown in containers.


Properly applied mulch can increase tree growth in the first few years after planting. Apply an even layer of mulch, 3-4 inches deep, with a diameter at least four times the diameter of the root ball, should be placed around every newly planted tree to conserve soil moisture and help moderate soil temperatures. Do not mound the mulch or let it rest against trunk of tree.


When stability is a problem, such as windy sites or sandy soils, trunks of trees should be staked for 1-3 years until new lateral roots stabilize the tree. Avoid staking too rigidly. Guy wires or staking materials should be checked monthly during the growing season to prevent damage to the bark. Failure to loosen or remove staking wires has girdled many trees.

Trunk Wraps

Young trees and trees with thin bark (e.g. maple) can be damaged by very cold weather. Stems can be protected by wrapping trunks in late fall, from the bottom up so that the wrap overlaps like shingles. There are numerous tree wraps and loose tree collar wraps available commercially. Remove the wrap each spring. Trunk wrapping is not essential on all trees. It is most beneficial on young trees with thin bark.


It is very important to ensure the best possible branch structure while trees are young. At the time of planting, remove all rubbing branches, dead, or broken branches. Side branches of trees with a central leader should be evenly spaced up and down the trunk. Do not allow more than one leader in shade trees or conifers.


Proper watering is the single most important aspect of maintenance of transplanted trees. Too much or too little water can cause damage. In the first few months after planting a tree, most of its moisture comes from the root ball. The root ball can dry out in only a day or two, even if surrounding soil remains moist. The only way to know is to probe the soil in the root ball and check its moisture. Even after trees are well established, they should be watered generously during periods of low rainfall (e.g. every 7 to 10 days). Tree water bags have permeable bottoms, which allows the water to drip into the soil of the rootball, where it is needed most. They have the advantage of delivering a specific amount of water. They need to be filled regularly (every 5 to 7 days on average) to be effective. Remove at end of season when not needed.

Transplant Stress

Research has shown that a tree can lose 80 to 95% of its root system as a result of transplanting. This causes a great deal of stress. After transplanting, the tree may form fewer and smaller leaves and grow very little. How long the stress period lasts depends on the size of the tree, its site, and the care it is given. A small tree (2-3 inch diameter), planted on a good site and given adequate water, should return to vigorous growth in 2-3 years. A poor site or inadequate care will lengthen this period. Large trees take longer to recover from transplanting than small trees approximately 1 year of recovery is needed for each inch of diameter. As long as branches are not dying and growth improves each year, the tree is doing well.

How to Plant a Peach Tree

Last Updated: March 29, 2021 References Approved

This article was co-authored by Andrew Carberry, MPH. Andrew Carberry has been working in food systems since 2008. He has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition and Public Health Planning and Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

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Peach trees are fast-growing fruit trees that produce fruit as early as 3 to 4 years when grown from a pit. However, most gardeners prefer to purchase young trees from nurseries or tree farms rather than try to grow a tiny, fragile seedling into a viable tree. Peach trees from nurseries or tree farms generally produce fruit in 1 to 2 years. When learning how to plant a peach tree, gardeners must understand that this delicate tree will require specific conditions and will be prone to disease and insect infestation. When these factors are taken into consideration and a peach tree is planted and cared for correctly to guard against them, it will produce tasty fruit each growing season.

Steps to Planting Citrus in Autumn

1. Choose a sunny location. Citrus trees demand sun, sun, sun — so don’t even think about that dappled partial sun area of your garden. Plant your tree in an area where it will receive full sun all day long.

2. Purchase a tree with a well-developed root system. Or as I read in another article, “not a stick in a Dixie cup.” Buy a good-sized tree with mature roots because it will become established quicker and begin producing fruit sooner.

3. Make sure your soil is well-drained. Citrus needs a decent amount of moisture but doesn’t enjoy being water-logged, so be sure your soil retains water but doesn’t hold it in and create a soggy mess.

4. Dig your hole. You’ll want to dig a hole that is big enough to accommodate your tree’s root system, so the size of your hole will depend upon the size of your tree. However, a 2-foot wide hole is usually large enough. Dig to a depth that is equal to the container depth of the tree.

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