Planting Trees and Shrubs – The Right Way

No matter when you choose to plant trees and shrubs in your yard or garden there are two very important rules to keep in mind to insure the survival and growing success of your plants.


Rule #1: Prepare a million-dollar hole for a one hundred dollar tree,


Rule #2: Water, water, water during the first year and if planted in the fall that means right up until the ground freezes and throughout the next growing season.


By following these rules and the instructions that go with them, you will greatly enhance the growing ability of your newly planted trees or shrubs.


When at the nursery you want to select a plant with a healthy appearance and a symmetrical growth form, so take the time to pull the pot out from the other plants and view it from all sides. Once you have brought your plant home, give it very thorough watering while still in the pot. Continue to water until you see water coming out of the holes of the pot. Now you can begin to prepare your planting hole. The saying: “a million dollar hole for a hundred dollar tree”, emphasizes the importance of a good sized hole with the proper soil to ensure the growth of your tree or shrub. Always dig the hole at least twice as wide and one and a half times as deep as the size of the pot or root ball.


Once the hole is dug place the plant in the hole in the pot just to make sure the depth and position looks good. Remove the plant and add compost or manure to fill the hole two-thirds. At this time you can mix in a powdered or granular transplant fertilizer (fertilizer with a high middle number) and then dig a new hole to accommodate the tree in this new soil by pushing the soil around within the hole. Gently remove the plant from the pot being very careful not to damage the roots and once free from the pot, gently tease the young roots outwards from the root ball in order to encourage them to grow into their new surroundings. The tender hairy and white roots are the young roots of the tree, responsible for the absorption or water and nutrients, so be extremely careful not to damage these in the transplanting process. Place the tree in the hole making sure that the root collar is level with the top of where the soil will be in the hole once it is filled in. The root collar can be identified as a small bulge around the stem where the roots and the stem of the tree meet. Usually it is the top of the soil in the pot but sometimes a pot can lose some of its soil or the plant was planted too deeply in its pot. It is up to you to adjust the soil so the root collar is even with the soil level in its new home.


Once the tree is positioned in its hole I like to fill the hole with water, before back-filling. Let the water drain out of the hole and then begin backfilling around the tree with the original soil that you removed from the hole. Pack the soil around the tree firmly but not too tightly that you compact it, while insuring that the tree is planted straight and even. Water the tree again. Once the water has drained away you may have to top up the soil to make sure that it is even with the root collar.


Rule number two – water, water, water. This is the most important rule for newly planted trees and shrubs. Depending on the time of year when the tree is planted and whether it has rained or not you many have to water your new tree daily (sometimes twice a day in the extreme heat of the summer). Check the tree each day to see if it needs water even if it has rained. The soil should remain moist but not sopping wet, adding adequate amounts of water to keep the conditions moist (this can be as much as five gallons of water each time). In the fall you may need to continue to water a tree up until the frost freezes the ground if we do not receive enough rain. If you see the leaves starting to droop or wilt make sure that you water the tree immediately, but make sure the soil is dry because a tree that is in too moist of conditions will also wilt. It is very important that you monitor the moisture of your tree or shrub throughout the first growing season to promote healthy growth and insure winter survival. Many gardeners will give up on the watering after a few days or a week and then their tree or shrub starts to decline.


Planting trees and shrubs is quite easy once you know the basics. A trip to the nursery and you can add beauty to your yard that will last for decades.