How To Plant A Tree


The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

                                                                                                                                    –Chinese Proverb

Trees are vital to a healthy, green future. Trees filter and clean the air of pollutants, provide shade to reduce energy costs, capture stormwater runoff, make people healthier, and so much more.

Right tree, right place

Planting a tree is a lifelong investment, so make sure you match the best tree species to the unique dimensions and circumstances of your planting site. When choosing your site, make sure to consider all underground utilities, powerlines over head, and room for the tree to grow.  To get more guidance about planting conditions in your city, contact your local ACTrees Member.

(Image Courtesy of International Society of Arboriculture)

How To Plant A Tree

The ideal time to plant trees is during the dormant season—in early spring before budbreak or fall after leaf drop.

Dig a shallow pit twice the width of the root ball and deep enough for the root flare—where the trunk meets the roots—to sit even with the soil line or up to 1 inch higher. Use your shovel as a measuring tool to make sure your pit is wide and deep enough. Break up the sides of the pit with your shovel so that roots can penetrate the native soil. Finally, flatten the floor of the pit so that the tree stands straight.

Roll or place the tree into the pit. Remove any compacted soil on top of the root ball until the root flare is visible. If a container tree, loosen the compacted soil by scoring the root ball with vertical cuts a few inches deep evenly around the root ball. Make sure to handle the tree by the root ball and not the trunk. Once the tree is standing straight, carefully remove any containers, labels, wrappings, wires, and ties from the root ball. If a ball and burlap tree, cut and remove as much burlap as possible. 


Backfill the pit around the root ball with the same soil that was dug out. Make sure not to put any grass back into the hole because it will compete with the tree for nutrients and water. Gently pack backfill to settle soil around the root ball, preventing air pockets. Make sure the tree is as straight as possible, and the root flare is even or slightly above the soil line.

Stakes may be used to stabilize and straighten the tree before roots are established. If needed, place stakes outside of the pit and root ball. Attach ties to the lower half of the tree.

Cover the soil with 2-4 inches of mulch. Shape the mulch into a wide, flat donut, leaving 2-3 inches around the trunk bare.

Water the tree right after planting, making sure to concentrate on the root ball. Water at least once a week and contact your local ACTrees Member for advice on how many gallons to use.

Video Tutorials

Want to see tree planting in action? Watch these videos from ACTrees member organizations:

Related Resources:
Species Selection– Part I: Nursery Selection
Species Selection– Part II: Seasonal Landscaping
Species Selection– Part III: Right Tree, Right Place
Species Selection– Part IV: Life After Planting