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How to Plant a Tree Sapling

By Cayden Conor ; Updated September 21, 2017

Saplings are young trees that can be purchased in pots. When working with saplings, extra care should be taken, as young saplings are fragile. If the sapling is older (over 2 years old), it may be balled and burlaped. When purchasing saplings to fill out the landscape, choose trees that are native to your location, unless you plant on keeping the sapling potted. Potted saplings should get a new pot every 2 years, and the new pot should be big enough to allow 2 years' growth of the rootball. If the sapling is bare root, soak the roots for 8 hours to ensure they are properly hydrated prior to planting.

Dig a planting hole three times the size of the root ball and as deep as the root ball. Scarify the sides of the planting hole with the pitchfork. Fill the planting hole with water, then center the sapling in the planting hole. Backfill with soil, gently tamping the soil down as you backfill.

Create a watering ring around the perimeter of the planting hole. The watering ring helps to divert water to the outside roots of the plant, encouraging root growth and a healthy plant. The watering ring also helps to conserve water.

Mulch the sapling with 1 1/2 inches of compost. If the sapling is taller than 3 feet, mulch with 3 inches of compost or pulverized bark. Water the sapling with at least an inch of water. Create a watering schedule for the sapling. Water it with 1 inch of water every week. Water deeply to encourage root growth. Shallow watering encourages a shallow root system and an unhealthy tree.

Drive three or four stakes in at an angle away from the tree (the bottom of the stake points to the root ball, and the top of the stake points away from the tree). Space the stakes evenly around the tree. Measure the ties. Tie one end to the sapling, about halfway between the top and bottom. Tie the other end to the stake. Repeat for all stakes.

Fertilize the sapling in the spring of the first year (if you plant during the spring do not fertilize until the next spring) unless instructions for a specific type of tree recommend otherwise. Fertilizers burn tender roots. After the first fertilizing, fertilize every 3 years in the spring.

Prune the sapling in the spring for dead or decaying wood and plant matter. Trees that are not intended to be shaped need only be pruned in the spring or as you notice dead and decaying wood and plant matter. Shaped trees should be pruned according to individual instructions for the type of tree.


Things You Will Need

  • Shovel or spade
  • Pitchfork
  • Compost
  • Pulverized bark (optional)
  • Stakes and ties

About the Author


Cayden Conor has been writing since 1996. She has been published on several websites and in the winter 1996 issue of "QECE." Conor specializes in home and garden, dogs, legal, automotive and business subjects, with years of hands-on experience in these areas. She has an Associate of Science (paralegal) from Manchester Community College and studied computer science, criminology and education at University of Tampa.