Often, when you order plants from a nursery online, or purchase plants from a local nursery, the plants may be "bare root." This means that the plants are not in any type of soil. They are harvested for retail sale during their dormant season, then prepared for sale. The plants are kept cool and the bare roots are kept moist. When planted, the plants rejuvenate during the growing season.
Soak the roots of the bare root tree in water for 8 hours to ensure the tree is properly hydrated.
Dig a planting hole as wide as, or a few inches wider than, the spread-out roots and as deep as the discoloration on the trunk of the tree. The discoloration shows how deep the tree was previously planted. If you cannot see a difference in the color of the trunk, dig the planting hole 2 to 6 inches above the top of the roots. (The depth depends on the type of tree: Pines are shallow-rooted and the roots grow nearer to the top of the ground, others--such as oak--are deeper-rooted.)
Scarify the sides of the planting hole with the pitchfork. Make a 2-inch mound in the center of the bottom of the planting hole. Center the tree trunk on the mound and arrange the branches around the bottom of the planting hole. Fill the planting hole with water, then backfill with soil. As you backfill with soil, gently tamp the soil down.
Create a watering ring around the perimeter of the planting hole. Water the bare root tree with at least 1 inch of water. Mulch with 2 to 3 inches of mulch. If the bare root tree is larger, use 3 inches of mulch. Use 2 inches for smaller bare root trees. Water once per week with at least an inch of water for the first year. Fertilize in the spring of the first growing season. If the bare root tree was planted in the spring, wait until the next spring to fertilize. Fertilize every 3 years from the time of the first fertilizer treatment.