Step 1 – Dig the Hole

  • Dig a planting hole that is two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball.
  • The depth of the hole should be equal to or slightly shallower than the height of the root ball.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Avoid digging a hole that is too deep, as it can lead to the tree settling too low in the soil.

Step 2 – Preparing the Root Ball

  • Inspect the root ball and gently loosen any circling or compacted roots. Prune any circular roots. 
  • Remove any excess burlap or container materials, ensuring they do not extend above the soil surface.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Do not leave circling roots, they will never “uncurl” and can destabilize the tree down the line. 

Step 3 – Placing the Tree

  • Position the tree in the center of the hole, making sure it sits at the same level as or slightly above the surrounding soil.
  • Check to ensure that the root collar- the place where the first root comes out of the trunk – is visible on the surface. The root collar is also called the flare, as it is where the trunk widens.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Avoid planting the tree too deep or too high, as it can negatively impact root development and stability. Pay attention to the root collar. 

Step 4 – Backfilling

  • Backfill the hole with the original soil, using a mixture of soil and organic matter if necessary.
  • Gently tamp down the soil to remove air pockets, taking care not to compact it excessively.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Do not use only organic matter for backfilling, as it can create a “bathtub effect” and retain excessive moisture.

Step 5 – Watering

  • Immediately after planting, thoroughly water the tree, allowing the water to penetrate the surrounding soil.
  • Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree, leaving a gap near the trunk to prevent moisture buildup.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Avoid overwatering or underwatering the newly planted tree, as it can lead to stress and root problems.

Step 6 – Staking (if necesasry)

  • Only stake the tree if it is top-heavy or likely to be exposed to strong winds.
  • Use flexible materials to secure the tree to stakes, allowing some movement for the tree to develop trunk strength.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Do not leave the tree staked for longer than necessary, as it can restrict trunk movement and hinder proper development, generally only a year or two. 

Step 7 – Post Planting Care

  • Monitor the tree regularly and water it appropriately, especially during dry periods.
  • Follow any specific care instructions provided for the particular tree species.
  • Mistake to Avoid: Avoid neglecting the tree’s care after planting, trees can be very fragile when they are young. Lack of post planting care is why most trees in human environments fail. 

Remember to tease out and separate the roots. Make sure they are straight, not curled – see step 2.

Contrary to popular imagination, tree roots don’t go very deep, not more than a foot and a half in our area. Trees get their strength from roots that spread wide. The diameter of the roots spread can be 2 – 3 times the diameter of their mature canopy.

The Arbor Day Foundation has a more extensive guide to planting trees. You can find it here: