Expert Advice

How to Plant Trees & Shrubs

Posted on May 18, 2017


Providing your plants with the proper foundation on which to grow is the first step to enjoying those plants for many years to come. Follow these easy steps for successful tree and shrub planting every time.

Before You Plant

  1. Prior to purchasing plants, assess the site. Some points to consider:
  • Sun versus shade
  • Spacing (measure!)
  • Does the soil drain well?
  • Is this site often very windy?
  • How tall do I want the plant(s) to grow?
  1. Know the pH requirements of the plants before you plant. A simple soil test can determine the existing pH of a given soil. Bring in a half cup of bone dry soil to our Lawn & garden Information Desk; we will gladly test your soils pH for free.


Preparing the Planting Hole

  1. Dig the hole as deep as, and 2 to 3 times as wide as, the original soil ball or container diameter. If the soil is especially sandy or has a lot of clay, amend it with organic matter such as compost or Espoma Soil Perfector. Otherwise, just use the soil that you dig out of the hole to fill it back in around the plant.
  2. An organic plant food can be mixed into the hole at the time of planting to help plants get off to a good start.


Burlapped Tree Ready For Tree and Shrub Planting

Burlapped Shrub Ready for Planting

There are different instructions for planting Balled & Burlapped Plants and Container (Potted) Plants:

Planting Balled & Burlapped Plants:

  1. Lift balled plant only by the ball, never by the above-ground portion. Set it in the planting hole and take a moment to step back and see if the plant is positioned the way you want it.
  2. Make sure the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil.
    1. Do not dig the hole any deeper than the root ball.
    2. Do not bury the branches or trunk; planting too deep can eventually cause the plant to decline and die.
  3. Untie natural burlap, cut it off or tuck it down into the hole and remove all twine. Synthetic burlap, ropes or twine should always be completely removed. Remove the top tiers of the wire if the plant is in a metal planting cage. Trim off any roots that are broken.
  4. Backfill the hole halfway and thoroughly water to settle the soil.
  5. Add remaining backfill.
  6. Build a 3-4” tall saucer, or berm, of backfill at the outside edge of the original soil ball to hold water. Add water slowly.
  7. Apply a 2-3” layer of cedar mulch in the saucer. Keep mulch a few inches away from the stems or trunk of the plant.


Planting Containerized (Potted) PlantsGardener shrub planting

  1. Carefully remove plant from the container.
  2. If the roots are tightly massed, tease them out with your fingers or handheld cultivator, or use a knife to make vertical cuts. This encourages the roots to grow outward into the new soil and not girdle the plant. Trim back any roots that are broken.
  3. Make sure the top of the plant’s soil is level with the surrounding soil.
    1. Do not dig the hole any deeper than the root ball, or bury the branches or trunk; planting too deep can cause the plant to decline and die.
    2. Backfill the hole halfway and thoroughly water to settle the soil.
    3. Add the remaining backfill.
    4. Build a 3-4” tall saucer, or berm, at the outside edge of the original container ball to hold water. Add 2-3” of cedar mulch in the saucer. Slowly add water to the saucer, filling it to the brim



pruners with shrubsWatering: Proper watering is necessary for establishment and long-term plant health. Over or under-watering can be fatal for any plant. If rainfall has been adequate (an inch of rain per week), you may not need supplemental water. Otherwise, 1” of water (a good deep watering) every 5 to 7 days (especially during the summer) is usually adequate for the first two years. Use a soaker hose to conserve water and get water to the root zone area where it’s needed. Organic mulch will decompose over time; so reapply mulch as needed to maintain a 2-3” layer.

At the time of planting a tree or shrub, only prune to remove damaged and/or diseased branches. With trees, structural pruning is generally done several years after planting.


Note: Newly planted trees and shrubs may not always put forth significant new top growth during the first year or two because most of its energy goes toward root growth at this time.

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