Tree Talk

Four Tips for Successful Planting


Trees are virtually everywhere you turn, from your backyard to nearby parks and forests. They provide shade and beauty, and some even bear fruit. 

When you plant a tree in your yard or neighborhood, that tree goes to work filtering out pollutants, intercepting stormwater, and capturing carbon. With proper placement, that tree can also help lower household energy use by as much as 20%. Here are a few tips to make your planting endeavor successful.

Consider the Growing Region

Choosing a tree that will flourish in your region is fundamental to success. Start by getting familiar with the growing conditions of your planting site, including factors like sunlight, soil condition, and room to grow.

The available sunlight will determine which tree species will thrive. Most trees require full sunlight for proper growth and flowering. Some do well in (or even prefer) partial or light shade, but few perform well in dense shade. 

Before you plant, get your soil tested by a lab to evaluate what’s happening underground. Test results are usually returned in a couple of weeks and provide a complete analysis of nutrients, possible contamination, pH (alkalinity or acidity), and directions for correcting problems.

Be conscious of overhead or underground utilities, pavement, buildings, other trees, traffic intersections, and other factors that may impact your planting space. 

Shopping for a Tree

When choosing a tree, be mindful of details like size, flowering, color (including how colors may vary through the seasons), and your view from inside the house. 

Two common trees are container-grown trees, which spend their entire nursery lives growing in a container, and ball-and-burlap trees, which grow in the ground until they achieve a targeted size.

A well-tended container-grown tree has been carefully monitored and moved into larger containers as the plant grows. Be wary of a tree with roots that circle or twist within the container, which may cause roots to die. For a ball-and-burlap tree, look for a firm, securely tied root ball that is large enough to support the mature tree. It should be about 10 to 12 inches wide for every inch of trunk diameter. 

Prepare Your Planting Site

Properly preparing your planting site is one of the best things you can do to get your tree off to a strong start. Before planting, ensure your tree is thoroughly hydrated by watering the container or root ball several hours before proceeding. When planting into a lawn, remove a circle of grass at least 3 feet in diameter where the tree will go to reduce competition between turf and fine tree roots.

Start Digging

Dig a wide, shallow planting hole with gently sloping sides 3 to 4 times wider than the diameter of the root mass and the same depth. Mound removed soil on a tarp for easy backfilling. Loosening the dirt on the sides of the hole allows roots to expand and establish faster but be sure not to disturb the soil at the bottom of the hole.

Once the tree is positioned, replace the soil while firmly but gently tamping the original soil around the base of the root ball to stabilize it. Create a water-holding basin around the tree by building up a ring of soil and water to settle roots. Spread protective mulch 2 to 4 inches deep in a 3-foot diameter around the tree’s base but not touching the trunk.

The Power of Trees

From backyards to tropical rainforests, trees provide the necessities of life. Trees clean air and water, provide habitats for wildlife, connect communities and support human health.

  • Trees are a proven, affordable, natural way to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
  • Trees provide shade, cooling cities by up to 10 degrees, which can help prevent heat-related deaths.
  • Neighborhood trees can reduce stress, improve children’s overall health, and encourage physical activity. 
  • Trees support wildlife and aquatic life by providing habitats and helping keep water ways healthy, which ensures ecosystem balance and promotes biodiversity.
  • Trees and other forest life work together to ensure a clean source of drinking water, buffer against extreme weather, offer outdoor recreation, and enrich human culture.

Find more tips to plant and care for your trees at arborday.org.  

Courtesy: Family Features, arborday.org, and Getty Images

A Handy Guide

Now is the Time for Trees is an inspirational and informative guide that explains the vital role trees can play in preserving the environment. 

Author Dan Lambe, CEO of the Arbor Day Foundation, offers compelling reasons to plant more trees while providing simple, actionable steps to get involved, choose the right tree and achieve planting success. For each book sold, the foundation will plant a tree in a forest in need.