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Planting Trees

Selecting the Right Tree

The first steps to planting trees is to determine the location and to select a tree suited for the site. No tree possesses every quality that might be desired because there is no perfect tree. Every plant has assets and liabilities in a particular environment and management situation. Selecting a tree for a specific location is a compromise between the function of the plant, its adaptation to the site, and the amount of care it will require.

     The location of the tree to be planted is important in tree selection. Make a note of site information before selecting your tree. 

For Example:

  • The site is full sun, partial sun, shaded

  • Amount of rain or irrigation to the site

  • Low wind protection, high wind protection

  • Soil type and drainage

  • If site is near pavement or structures (heat radiation and/or road salts)

After the site information has been determined, choose a tree with a mature growth height that meets your desired function for the tree. The growth habit of a plant and its size should be considered in terms of intended landscape use and the nature of the site. Branching structure not only provides aesthetic qualities and environmental function but also can be particularly important in determining the structural strength of trees. Rate of growth is dependent on the site and function of the tree. People usually want a fast growing tree (more than 3-5 ft per year) that will quickly provide shade. Although fast growing trees are usually short lived, weak-wooded, and subject to limb breakage; fast growing trees are usually very tolerant of difficult sites and neglect.

     Trees that are disease and pest resistant are good candidates for planting. Plant features such as: leaves, thorns, flowers, bark texture or color, and fruit are specific features that should be considered for the planting site. Select a plant by checking its Root Quality, avoid plants that have root defects such as kinked roots, in which the taproot, major branched roots, or both are sharply bent; and circling or girdling roots, which form circles around the trunk or other roots. Inspect the root ball and color of the roots as well as the root ball integrity when selecting a plant. 

Modifying and Managing the Site

Soil properties such as texture, structure, depth, and layering will determine influencing characteristics of plant performance at the site. 

  • Water-holding capacity

  • Nutrient-holding capacity

  • Aeration

  • Rate of water percolation into the soil

  • Drainage through the soil

  • Ease of root penetration

Some physical soil properties can be modified to improve conditions for plant growth while others are difficult to correct and must be addressed through appropriate plant selection. Amendments are added in an effort to improve the aeration of fine-textured or compacted soils. Significant modification of the soil texture throughout the landscape is usually impractical​ and in most cases is not recommended. Organic matter (peat moss, bark, manure, sawdust, compost, etc.) is commonly added to soils, but it decomposes with time. Therefore organic matter can temporarily have a positive effect on soil structure. 

     Soil pH, salinity, alkali, and specific toxic ions, such as boron or chloride should be tested before planting to ensure the plant will survive and establish. Contact your local extension office to find out how to take a soil test and if any soil modifications should be done prior to planting.


Unless the winters are too cold for young plants of a species, those planted in the fall will usually outperform those planted in late winter or spring. Call Diggers Hotline (811) before digging! Be sure that the location of underground utilities and pipes is known so they can be avoided. Find the trunk taper, some containerized stock has too much dirt or mulch built up on the trunk of the tree which will cause problems if the tree is not planted at the proper height. The planting hole only needs to be deep enough to hold the root ball of the plant. Each hole should be at least twice the diameter of the container or root ball so that backfill soil can be worked in easily.

     The sides and bottom of the hole should be roughened with a shovel intermingle the backfill and field soil.  Handle plants by the root ball support, containers or baskets, to avoid any unnecessary damage to the trunk or feeder roots when moving. Remove wire baskets, burlap, containers, grow bags, or all root ball support just before planting. Backfill should be carefully tamped around the root ball, try not to over-compact the soil. 


The extent of staking trees depends on trunk strength, tree conformation, expected wind conditions, amount of vehicular and foot traffic, type of landscape planting, and level of follow up maintenance. Many young trees can stand alone; others may need support to stand against the wind but before staking a tree consider the adverse effects first:

  • Grow less in trunk taper

  • Develop a smaller root system

  • More wind resistance than trees of equal height (because top is not free to bend)

  • More likely to rubbing and girdling injury from stakes and ties

  • Develop uneven xylem around the trunk if it is closely tied to one stake; the trunk will grow or bend away from the stake

  • May not be able to stand upright when untied


Adequate water is essential for newly planted trees and shrubs. Over-watering, however, can endanger root growth and function. It is necessary to maintain adequate soil moisture although daily irrigation may cause the surrounding soil to remain extremely wet. For the first few weeks, only water enough to rewet the root ball and a little of the surrounding soil. Installing organic mulch maintains soil moisture longer than without, trees and soil structure also benefit from organic mulch installed around the base of a tree and is highly recommended. 

If you would like to further discuss planting trees or have questions about this topic give us a call. Good luck with you planting project!

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