Steps to Plant a Tree

When carefully selected and correctly planted, specimen trees can easily become the focal point of many landscapes. Trees can also be planted as privacy screens, wind barriers and to add background depth and color to the garden. Take the time to do plenty of research on varieties that will suit your landscaping objectives before you plant. Once established, trees can be costly and difficult to remove or relocate.

Tree Selection

Deciding which tree to plant is often the most difficult part of the planting process. Focus on the purpose of the tree first. If it is for privacy or wind protection, then a fast-growing evergreen such as green giant thuja may be suitable. A sycamore or maple can provide summer shade to a southern exposure but still allow light in winter after the leaves drop. Always consider the mature size of the tree and whether it will fit with your yard or landscape. Visit local nurseries for ideas on trees that grow well in your area. The Arbor Day Foundation is also an excellent resource for tree selection information (see Resources).


The location must be a match for both the tree and the people who come into contact with it. Envision the height and spread of the tree when it is full grown and whether it will encroach on buildings, power lines or neighboring properties. Choose a planting site that suits the tree. Understory trees such as the flowering dogwood prefer filtered sunlight or partial shade as they grow naturally beneath the forest canopy, whereas fruit trees thrive in full sun. Most trees need well-drained soil that holds some water for dry spells.

Preparing the Hole

Contact your local utility companies before digging the planting hole. Most require at least 48 hours notice to locate underground services. Make the hole at least twice as wide as the root ball of the tree. Digging the hole wider makes it easier for the roots of the new tree to spread and form a good foundation. The depth of the hole should be an inch or two shallower than the height of the root ball. This will ensure that the flare of the trunk is just above ground level after planting. The flare is the part of the trunk that widens out immediately above the roots.


Trees can be very heavy, so always have plenty of help when planting. Once the tree is positioned, backfill half of the soil and add a good inch of water all around the root ball. Finish backfilling after the water has settled. Use the excess soil to make a small berm around the planting hole to keep water close to the tree. Water the tree thoroughly after planting. Spread 4 inches of mulch around the tree out to the drip line. A good mulch of wood chips, straw, shredded bark or even grass clippings will warm the soil around the tree, help to retain water and suppress weeds.

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About this Author

Based in Surrey, British Columbia, Stephen Oakley is a freelance writer focusing on environmental issues, travel and all things outdoors. His background includes many years spent working in the Canadian wilderness and traveling worldwide.