Planting a Tree 101
The simple steps to planting a tree successfully - when, where, and how!
WHEN: While a healthy tree can be planted successfully during the regular growing season if properly cared for, the best time to plant a tree is in the fall after all the leaves have dropped or in early spring before the buds have grown. This is because it gives the tree roots time to grow in their new environment before they start experiencing the added pressure of more top growth. Evergreens should also be planted in early spring or in the fall.
WHERE: This is a two-tier question: the first being where to get your tree from, and the second being where to plant it.
A local arborist could likely direct you to a nursery with vigorous stock. If not, I won’t get into the details here, but you’ll want to ask specific questions about the tree’s care depending on the type of nursery stock it is (bare root, ball and burlap, container grown, in-ground fabric bags, or tree spade). Easy things to check on the tree itself are for a single main leader, good scaffold branch structure, easily-identifiable root flare, and little to no dead branches or wilting leaves. Warning signs to look out for would be girdling root (roots circling the surface of the container), trunk damage, or soil covering the root flare.
The ideal location for planting a tree is a very individualized and complex decision. If you have any unanswered questions after reading our recommendations, we would strongly recommend contacting a local arborist with your concerns.
For tall trees that will grow over 40 feet tall at maturity, we would suggest planting them in your backyard, as this will reduce the possibility of their roots competing with utility lines, including older sewage drain pipes as the roots of willows and poplars have been known to cause problems that can be very costly to correct. This also prevents the roots from getting damaged if the utility lines need to be dug up for repair. For these reasons, medium trees (around 40 feet at maturity) can usually be planted in the front or backyard (but not too close to the street due to hydro lines), and smaller trees (20 feet or less at maturity) could likely be safely planted on any part of your property including the boulevard. Be sure to check your property survey and city by-laws if you are choosing a site close to the edge of your property.
You will also want to consider the overall effect on your property. A tree will change the aesthetics of the area, so you want it to enhance the look, making sure not to block windows, and planning for the shaded area that will be created, using it to your advantage if possible. For cooling summer shade, big deciduous trees on the southeast and southwest sides are ideal. If you’re in a particularly cold and windy area, consider planting evergreens on the north side of the property as a windbreaker. You can even find out the monetary value a tree would add to your property (or check the value of your existing trees) using an online calculator.
Wherever you decide to plant, be sure to plan ahead and obtain proper locates before digging - you don’t want an injury or added repair expense! Plus, these are FREE to obtain in Ontario from Ontario One Call.
HOW (For Nursery Trees, balled & bur lapped): To begin, make sure you LOCATE ALL UTILITIES BEFORE DIGGING. You don’t want to learn that lesson the hard way.
- Dig your hole. A good hole will be the same depth as the root ball, but about 2-3 times wider.
- Remove the container, including any wiring or burlap, and check over the root ball. If you see any circling roots, try to straighten them out. It may be necessary to cut a few but do you’re best to avoid this.
- Place your tree in the hole, making sure that the ground level will not be higher than the root flare (where the trunk expands at the base of the tree). Then make sure the trunk is straight - be sure to look at it from multiple angles.
- Fill in the hole. Contrary to what you might assume, you do not want loose soil around the tree to let the roots grow. Rather, backfill the soil gently but firmly, patting down every 15cm making sure to avoid air pockets as this will dry out the roots. You can even water the tree several times while re-filling the hole. Do not stake your tree unless it is absolutely necessary, as this has been shown to hinder tree development and trunk strength.
- Spread mulch at the base of the tree. This will help moderate the soil temperature for the tree, hold moisture, and will help prevent the growth of competing plant life like grass and weeds. DO NOT cover the root flare with mulch (no volcano structures please).
- Continue care while the tree is “adjusting”. This means keeping the soil moist for the first 2-6 weeks (but not water-logged), by watering well at least once a week (but up to every day) unless it rains. While the roots are still in their root-ball formation, it’s important that they stay moist to continue growing outwards and establish themselves. If it’s hot, dry, and windy, you can water more, but studies show that deeper, less frequent watering is what’s best. As your tree matures in the coming 2-5 months, you can slowly reduce your level of care so the tree gets accustomed to nature’s schedule.
- Finish by pruning any broken branches and perform any required structural pruning. Do not remove the leaves. And remember, structural pruning is most effective in young trees as their growth patterns can be more easily manipulated, so a tree is never “too small” to have an arborist take a look.
*Remember that these trees will experience transplant shock, which means reduced growth and vitality after transplanting. These trees have been removed from their original location, and in the process have lost a lot of their roots. Following the planting and care instructions below will help your tree recover sooner
That’s all for now! We’ve missed the ideal planting time for our climate, but we are still hoping to plant at least one tree this year, so there may be pictures to follow!