Tree Planting Tips: How And When To Plant Trees

A Child And An Adult Planting A Tree
Father wearing gray shirt and shorts and son in checkered shirt and pants planting tree under sun.
(Image credit: LightFieldStudios)

Knowing how and when to plant trees is crucial to their success. Let's look at the best time to plant trees and how to plant them correctly. Keep reading for some tree planting tips. Trees are typically sold in containers, burlap sacks, or as bare roots. This is an important consideration when planting them.

  • Trees in containers should be carefully removed and inspected prior to planting. Check to ensure the roots are not rootbound and gently spread the roots apart.
  • Burlap-wrapped trees should be carefully unwrapped, removing the burlap completely and gently separating the roots prior to planting.
  • Bare root trees have no soil surrounding the roots as those in containers or burlap.

How to Plant Trees

Trees do not require deep planting. On average, holes should be about two or three times as wide as the root ball and slightly shallower. It's also a good idea to roughen up the sides and bottom of the hole to make it easier for the tree's roots to penetrate the soil. Place the tree in the hole and take a step back to ensure it is not leaning before backfilling with soil. Since bare root trees cannot stand without help, it may help to create a mound of soil in the center of the hole. Gently situate the tree on top and allow the roots to hang down. If the soil is difficult to work with, it can be amended with compost or well-rotted manure, which will also give the tree a healthy boost of fertilizer. Fill in around the tree only up to the root crown. Never leave any tree roots showing, as they will quickly dry up. Tamp gently as you go but try not to compress too hard; otherwise, it will become more difficult for water to reach the roots. If necessary, you may need to stake the tree in place temporarily until the roots take hold. Water the tree thoroughly and cover the area with 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm.) of mulch, staying a couple of inches (5 cm.) shy of the trunk all around.

Best Time to Plant Trees

Climate is an important factor to consider when determining the best time of year to plant trees, as seasonal weather conditions often determine the appropriate planting time. Regardless of location, trees need adequate time to root, especially in areas with hot, dry summers. For this reason, in most areas, fall is the best time of the year to plant trees. In some instances, however, the tree type may also determine the best time of the year to plant trees.

Instructions for Planting Tree Seedlings

When it comes to instructions for planting tree seedlings, keep in mind that tree seedlings should be treated differently than grown trees. The best time to plant trees is not the same as with seedlings. Tree seedlings should only be planted while dormant, usually between December and March in most places. Make sure the roots are fibrous and moist. Dig a hole just large enough to accommodate the roots. Hold in place, with roots straight down, and backfill with soil just to the root collar. Tamp gently to prevent air pockets from forming. Water and mulch.

Nikki Tilley
Senior Editor

Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.