In general, the best time to plant is when the tree is dormant in the spring before bud break and in the fall after leaf drop and before the ground freezes.
How to Plant a Tree
- Dig a shallow, broad planting hole. Make the hole up to 3 times as wide as the diameter of the root ball or root system but only as deep as the root ball. Break up the soil in a wide area to provide the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil to hasten establishment.
- Identify the trunk flare. The trunk flare is where the roots spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree is planted. This determines the depth of the hole.
- Place the tree at the proper height. As a general rule, trees should be transplanted no deeper than the depth of the rootball, and possibly higher if soil has accumulated above the trunk flare. The majority of the roots on a newly planted tree will develop in the top 12 inches of the soil. It is better to plant a little high than too deep.
- Straighten the tree in the hole. Before you back fill with soil, have someone view the tree in several directions to confirm that the tree is straight.
- Fill the hole about 1/3 full, and gently but firmly pack the soil around the base of the root ball. Then, if the root ball is wrapped, cut and remove any fabric plastic, string and wire from around the trunk and root ball to facilitate growth. Be careful not to damage the trunk in the process. Fill the remainder of the hole, taking care to firmly pack soil to eliminate air pockets that may cause the roots to dry out. To avoid this problem, add soil a few inches at a time and settle by watering it in. Continue this process until the hole is filled and the tree is firmly planted.
- Mulch around the base of the tree. Spread composted leaf litter or wood chips, shredded bark, or pine straw to the area under the tree. Keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk but cover the entire area under the tree out to the edges of the branches. Mulch acts as a blanket to hold moisture and prevent weeds, and it promotes healthy soil life. A layer 2 to 3 inches deep is ideal.
- If you decide to stake-and it is often not necessary-use one to three stakes with a flexible tie that will not girdle or cut the stem. The tree needs to be able to move a certain amount, because that motion stimulates supporting root growth. Stakes should be removed after the first growing season, unless the tree is very large or is in a windy location.
- Provide follow up care. Keep the soil moist but not soaked. Water trees once a week if they do not receive 1-inch of rain, and more frequently during very hot weather. When the soil is dry below the mulch, it is time to water. Proper care is required for at least the first growing season.