Planting Instructions for Shrubs


Shrubs, once used primarily as utilitarian plants to hide an unattractive house foundation, have become backbones of the garden. A well-placed shrub anchors a corner of the yard, creates a natural, green background for blooming plants, and can offer privacy, screen ugly areas, or even thwart curious neighbors. Once you choose and purchase a shrub, ensure the new addition has the best chance of survival by planting the shrub correctly.

Step 1

Choose an appropriate planting site for the shrub. Allow enough space for the shrub at maturity. Different species will prefer different amounts of sun and water. Never plant a shrub in soil that does not drain well; if a planting hole, filled with water, does not drain within 24 hours, choose another site. Always be aware of the amount of sun a shrub will get; a sweet olive may thrive in shade, but a juniper will not.

Step 2

Dig the planting hole twice the width of the shrub's container, and deep enough so the soil of the new plant will be 1 to 2 inches above the surrounding ground. Newly planted shrubs settle, and by planting a shrub high, the shrub will eventually settle just above the original soil. Planting a shrub too deep will encourage rot along the bark and may suffocate surface roots. Place the removed soil in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp.

Step 3

Carefully remove the shrub from the container. Many nurseries will cut slits down the sides of plastic containers upon request for easy removal--be sure to plant the shrub the same day if the container is cut. Do not pull on the trunk or branches of the shrub. Check for tangled roots or roots that circle the plant, and cut them with a sharp knife or with pruning shears. Roots that are allowed to continue the circular growth will eventually gird the shrub, and tangled roots will establish themselves slowly, if at all. Place the shrub in the planting hole.

Step 4

Backfill with the original dirt. Add soil amendments or compost only if necessary; amendments mixed in large amounts with the original soil will create a bowl effect, where the water will not drain effectively into the surrounding soil and may drown the shrub. With average soil and a well-chosen species, amending the soil is not beneficial. When the hole is two-thirds to three-quarters filled, move the shrub gently up and down to settle the soil, and straighten the shrub. Continue to fill soil firmly around the shrub, allowing the top of the root ball to be above ground level. Create a circular berm around the shrub to form a water basin. Mulch 2 to 3 inches deep, and water well.

Tips and Warnings

  • Tags or labels should always be removed. Many retail nursery plants will carry a small wholesaler's tag; be sure no tags are hidden under foliage. Plastic tags will not deteriorate, and may create a damaging tourniquet around a growing branch. When planting spiny or thorny bushes, like pyracantha or holly, wear eye protection.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Sharp knife or pruning shears
  • Soil amendments, if necessary
  • Mulch


  • Sunset Western Garden Book; Kathleen N. Brezel, Ed.; 1995
  • North Carolina Cooperative Extension: Planting Techniques for Trees and Shrubs; M. A. Powell

Who Can Help

  • Virginia Cooperative Extension; Shrubs: Functions, Planting, and Maintenance; Alex Niemiera
Keywords: planting shrubs bush, how plant shrub, rootbound shrub container

About this Author

Kimberly Fuller has been a writer for 15 years, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Utah. She has written successful grants for local schools as well as articles for Demand Studios, Constant Content and other online sites.