Tree Planting Techniques

Proper tree-planting is critical to ensure the long-term health and success of trees. Things such as, water, mulching and the planting site of a tree are all very important. This page will introduce you to 3 different types of tree stock and planting and maintenance tips that you'll need to know to give your tree the best chance for long-term survival.

General Rules for All Trees

  • Choose a site that is appropriate for the particular species you are planting.
  • After you have bought your tree plant it with in a day or two.
  • Dig the hole before removing the tree from its original store wrappings.
  • Dig at least twice the width of the root ball or root mass.
  • Put the tree in the hole with the 1st main roots (the uppermost roots) of the tree at grade; thus, the root collar (the junction where the uppermost roots join the main stem) of the tree should be level or just above the final ground level after being planted.
  • Make sure the tree is straight and plumb (to your satisfaction).
  • Backfill the hole with the existing soil on the site; add water every so often while backfilling.
  • Gently compact; water after backfilling is completed.

Tree Types

Trees are sold in 1 of 3 ways prior to planting. They include bare-root, balled and burlapped (B&B) and containerized. Bare-root trees are those not grown in any soil prior to planting, which means the roots are exposed fully to the air. Balled and burlapped trees are those grown in soil held together by piece of burlap wrapped around the soil ball, which is then encased in a wire basket. Finally, containerized trees are those grown in soil and then placed in a container, generally plastic, for temporary purposes. The following summarizes the necessary steps needed to ensure that a tree is planted correctly:

The roots should be level to the final grade of the hole


When properly planted the root flare is visible above ground


Bare-Root Trees

  • Do not let the roots dry out during the planting process; be sure to have water nearby to prevent this.
  • It is recommended to have your hole pre-dug to allow for quicker planting time.
  • Build a slight mound in the hole so the roots will spread out properly.
  • Put the tree in the hole and be sure the root collar is level or slightly above the final ground level.
  • Staking the tree may be needed, especially for bare root trees; if the location of where the tree is to be placed experiences a lot of wind, it's recommended to stake the tree until the roots take hold.
  • straps should be wide and flat and be attached 1/3 to 2/3 of the way up the stem; lines should be loose enough to allow for some wind movement.
  • Multiple fine feeder roots are still attached in bare root plantings.

The hole should be at least twice the size of the root mass


Multiple fine feeder roots are still attached in bare root plantings

Multiple fine feeder roots are still attached in bare root plantings


  • Remove the whole container surrounding the root ball.
  • Probe down with a wire to find the 1st main roots.
  • Remove excess soil above 1st main root.
  • Make 4 vertical cuts in the cardinal directions to sever any encircling roots that may have formed from being bound in the container.
  • Remove any potential stem girdling roots. Roots normally grow in a radial direction but this can be altered in the pot, so a root that hits the edge of the pot begins to loop or encircle the base of the trunk. These roots will eventually kill the tree through their compression of the stem tissues.
  • Put the tree in the hole keeping the 1st main root level to slightly below the finished grade of the hole.

Bound roots which should be cut to encourage new growth

Bound roots which should be cut to encourage new growth photo courtesy of U of Minnesota Professor G

Balled and Burlapped (B&B)

  • Probe down with a wire to find the 1st main roots.
  • Remove excess soil above 1st main root.
  • Put the tree in the hole; if the 1st main roots are further down from the top of the root ball, the root ball may be above finished ground level after planting.
  • Remove the burlap, rope, twine and wire basket from the top and sides of the root ball after being placed in the planting hole.

Balled and Burlapped tree

Photo courtesy of U of Minnesota Professor Gary Johnson
The most stressful shock to a tree is after being transplanted. To decrease the amount of stress a tree undergoes, it is imperative to ensure that it receives adequate water.
  • The best time to water is early in the morning before the sun warms up the ground. This prevents water loss to evaporation, which decreases the amount of water the soil absorbs.
  • Water until the ground freezes. Fall is just as an important time of year to water as is the dog days of summer. This will help keep the pholem (water conducting tissue of a tree) from being damaged over the winter.
  • Don't count on your sprinklers to water your trees for you. Sprinklers don't provide enough water to penetrate the soil where tree roots grow. Lawns take up a tremendous amount of water which can eliminate the saturation needed for the water to percolate deeper into the soil.
  • Use about 1 gallon of water per inch of tree diameter every time it is watered; if there is no rainfall in a 3-5 day period during the growing season, the tree should be watered. A slow trickle with a garden hose near the trunk of the tree is a very effective means of ensuring the tree roots and not the surrounding vegetation are being benefited.

Some trees are too deep in the container; thus, it’s important to plant tree at right depth; remember to remove excess dirt over roots

It is recommended to mulch the tree after planting. Use no more than 4 inches of mulch, and try and keep space between the mulch and the trunk. If mulch is in direct contact with the trunk, it can cause rotting and cankering of the tree.

Watering is extremely important once the tree is planted

Irrigation55byUSDANRCSMontana CC0 1.0

Mulch is pulled away from the base of the trunk

Mulch is pulled away from the base of the trunk.