Gardening For Beginners - How to Plant a Tree or Shrub

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Planting a tree - 8 Simple Steps

There's more to planting a tree or shrub than digging a hole and plonking it into the ground. Some plants aren't in the least bit fussy and will tolerate this. However most trees and shrubs will benefit from a little care taken during planting. If you plant your trees or shrubs properly, this will ensure that they will have a good start in life and become established quicker without struggling.

Step 1: Pick a Time and a Location

The ideal time for planting trees and shrubs is the fall/autumn or early spring. Potted plants are less fussy since the root ball is undisturbed during planting and roots are eager to spread out. Bare rooted plants however have very little soil surrounding them and the plant can rapidly de-hydrate if planted in summer. This is because moisture is rapidly lost through the leaves and not replaced because the roots don't make good contact with the soil after planting.. This is the case also if you are re-planting trees and shrubs, and it is essential to dig up as much of the root ball as possible. Again the best time to do this is in the fall when the plant is entering a dormant state, or in the spring when it is coming out of dormancy.
Decide on where you want to plant. Will the tree or shrub eventually become huge, blocking light, causing an obstruction to driveways, dumping leaves everywhere and possibly becoming a hazard to foundations of buildings? Choose a location accordingly.
Don't plant after a wet spell because the soil is likely to be muddy and it will be difficult to fill back around the root ball. Also it is uncomfortable and messy to work in these conditions with mud sticking to your shoes or boots.

An apple tree gets lucky after having been stuck in a pot for years!
An apple tree gets lucky after having been stuck in a pot for years!

Step 2: Prepare the Ground Surface

If there are weeds, grass or flowers in the spot where you intend to plant, hoe them to oblivion! These plants will compete with your new tree and soak up moisture and nutrients from the ground.

All these weeds and grass need to be cleared
All these weeds and grass need to be cleared | Source
Area cleared for digging the hole
Area cleared for digging the hole | Source

Step 3: Dig a Hole

The hole ideally should be at least double the width and depth of the root ball of your plant. Don't just make it the diameter of the plant. The reason for this is so that the space around the plant can be backfilled with compost/soil. This mixture is loose and aerated so roots can penetrate into it more readily. If the roots just make contact with the solid walls of the hole, they will find it more difficult to do this.

The hole should ideally be about twice the width and depth of the root ball
The hole should ideally be about twice the width and depth of the root ball | Source

Step 4: Fill the Bottom of the Hole With Compost

The aim is to surround the root ball with a soil/compost mixture. So fill the bottom of the hole with a layer of compost, at least a few inches.
You can use homemade compost on its own if it contains some soil, a 50/50 mixture of compost and soil, or mix peat moss and soil in equal proportions. The soil/dirt from the hole can be used unless it is of poor quality will lots of rocks, stones and sand.

Step 5: Remove the Plant From the Pot

Turn the plant upside down and tap the rim of the pot on the edge of a firm surface. This removes the plant easier than by just pulling on the crown or stem to get it out of the pot.

Remove the plant from the pot by tapping the rim on a firm surface
Remove the plant from the pot by tapping the rim on a firm surface | Source

Step 6: Place the Plant in the Center of the Hole

Center the plant in the hole. The top of the root ball should be somewhat lower than the surrounding ground so that when the hole is backfilled, a depression is left for watering.

Center the plant in the hole
Center the plant in the hole | Source

Step 7: Backfill the Hole With Compost

Finish by filling around the plant with a mixture of compost and soil. You can add a sprinkling of granular fertilizer to the mix but don't overdo it because it could burn the roots. Firm down with your hands, shoe or a piece of timber. Leave a thin layer on top of the root ball to allow the roots to breathe. Try to end up with a depression or bowl effect as this will allow you to water the plant without the water running off the surface.

Backfill the hole and tightly pack the material with your hand or shoe
Backfill the hole and tightly pack the material with your hand or shoe | Source

Step 8: Water Your Tree

Give the plant a generous watering. A gallon should be sufficient. Continue to water every few days if planting during the summer and weather conditions are very dry. Trees can also dry out in prolonged cold, dry conditions when the humidity is low and it is windy. If there is snow, it prevents water penetrating to the roots, so watering may be necessary.

Cross section schematic of how to plant a tree
Cross section schematic of how to plant a tree | Source

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2 comments

livingsta profile image

livingsta 3 years ago from United Kingdom

Interesting information for beginners who wish to know the correct procedure for planting trees. Thank you for sharing with us. Voted up and sharing!


eugbug profile image

eugbug 3 years ago from Ireland Author

Thanks livingsta for the comment! Like I say, the best time to plant is in the autumn. However planting potted plants in summer is ok, (even during this heatwave we're having!) if they are well watered.

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