Putting Down Roots - How to Successfully Plant a Tree


Just being around trees and nature is calming. They reduce our stress and encourage creativity. Best of all, in time, they become playgrounds for our children and grandchildren.

The benefits of trees are many.  They are the longest living organisms on earth and provide shade, shelter and a home for birds, animals and insects.  Trees supply us with food, medicine and filter the rainwater in the soil.  Just being around trees and nature is calming. They reduce our stress and encourage creativity.  Best of all, in time, they become playgrounds for our children and grandchildren. 

While all our oxygen does not come from trees, they do provide us with a good portion of it.  Trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen during the day.  It has been proven that two mature deciduous (leafy) trees can provide a family of four enough oxygen for a year!

When planning an oasis in your back yard, one of the most important decisions regarding landscaping is what trees to plant.  Trees are the anchors of your garden and after any hard landscaping (walls, edging, decks, paving) should be the first plants to go into the landscape.

Consider the following when choosing a tree for your yard. 

Measure.  Take a general area measurement of your front and back yards.   A small front yard may need only one tree or just shrubs and perennials!  The size of back yards in a residential community vary so err on the side of too few trees opposed to crowding them in and wasting your money.  If you live on an acreage or farm, space may not be your problem.  Consider wind conditions, deer browsing and water needs.

Drainage.  Does your yard drain properly?  Are there areas in your garden that stay wet, even well after a rain?  Is the soil loamy, sandy, clay-like or a mix of all three!  

Take note of your preferred tree location in proximity to buildings and underground and overhead utilities.  Before you dig contact Sask. First Call at 1-866-828-4888.  It is a free locate service that is invaluable and keeps everyone safe.  All they ask is to give them two days notice before commencing work. 

Evergreen, deciduous (leafy) trees or a mix of the two?

Research.  Determining your yard’s square footage should also be followed with doing some research on the types of trees that grow in our zone (3b) and their mature size.  As you know, the internet is full of great tree information.  Be careful that you are not on a garden website that has a much higher zone rating.

Bring all this information with you when visiting the garden centre.  It is very useful to garden centre tree department staff when they help you choose a tree.

Another important consideration is what size of tree to purchase.  Surprisingly, trees in the 8-10 ft. range are the best size to purchase.  Large trees, when transplanted, take longer to recover from the stress and shock of transplantation before they begin to grow again.  Smaller trees establish quickly and usually catch up by the time the larger tree takes off.

If you cannot plant your tree right after purchase, keep it watered and in a semi-shade to shady location.   You are now ready to plant your tree! 

Water your tree thoroughly in the pot just before planting. 

First, determine the proper planting depth by finding the tree trunk ‘flare’.  This is the area of the trunk that widens out just above where the roots begin. This flare may be planted below the soil line in the pot as tree nurseries do this to stabilize the plant during the growing process.   In its new home, you will want to position the flare just above the soil surface.  From the trunk flare measure down to the bottom of the root-ball.  This is the depth of hole you will be digging.   Dig the hole 2-3 times wider than the root-ball.  Through years of research, it is the consensus that the soil you take out of the hole will not need to be amended with compost, peat moss or bone meal.  The tree must get used to the soil it will be growing in right away. Do not disturb the bottom of the hole.   Remove any burlap, wire cage or twine from around the root-ball. 

If the roots are circling the root-ball, gently pull them out a bit or slice the root-ball vertically in a few places to encourage new roots to grow outward.  Place the root-ball in the hole and backfill with the original soil halfway up the ball.  At this point water with a half strength solution of 15-30-15 root fertilizer.  Backfill with the remaining soil.  Water in well with more half-strength rooting fertilizer.  Do not pile the soil up around the trunk of the tree.  Provide a mulch of a 2 inch depth of compost in a 3 ft. circle around the tree.  Keep the mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk.  For the rest of the season deeply water every 7-10 days until the end of October. Make sure to deep water the area just outside the root zone as well.   Do not rely on the rain to deep water your trees.  Also do not rely on your irrigation system to water your trees.  It may be adequate for lawns at a shallower root depth but not for deeply planted trees.  Wait to fertilize your newly planted tree until year two.

There has also been much debate about whether or not to stake newly planted trees. 

It has been my experience that most young trees do not need staking. I think that the tree should be allowed to establish some root anchor strength on its own.    After saying that though, there are times when staking is needed.  This would apply to bare root trees, very windy locations, trees with weak or flexible trunks, trees with a small root ball and top-heavy growth. Proper staking will enable the tree to move slightly to develop stronger roots.

If you do stake your newly planted tree, remove the stake after one year.  Too often the staking material is left on the tree over many seasons.   It girdles the tree, causing tree death.   

Last, but not least, consider putting breathable hard plastic tree wrap on about the last two to three feet of the trunk closest to the ground.   I have seen too many trees girdled by rabbits in the winter who do not hesitate to stand on their back legs and eat the bark that is further up the tree!

Some Additional Important Tips!

Read the information tags on the trees at the garden center!   Keep your tree’s tag in your garden photo album so you have the tree name handy. This is especially helpful if you sell your home in the future.  The new owners will be very grateful!

Do not plant your tree too deep.  This is the leading cause of tree death in the first few years after planting. 

Avoid planting evergreens in constantly wet soil.  There are very few evergreens that can tolerate wet conditions.

Never stake a tree using just wire around the trunk or branches.  Wire will girdle the tree stopping the natural flow up and down of nutrients and water.

It is a myth that you should prune your tree right after planting.  Young trees need all their leaves to photosynthesize.


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