UGA Extension Office

Tree Care Information

How to Plant a Tree

  1. Survey the planting site. Modify the site, if necessary, to ensure a good growing environment. Select trees adapted to the site conditions.
  2. Purchase a healthy, pest-free tree.
  3. Call 811 before you dig to locate any underground utilities.
  4. Dig the Planting Hole: The old adage "never put a ten-dollar tree in a two-dollar hole" applies when planting individual trees. Research at the University of Georgia has shown that a large planting hole – at least twice as wide as the root ball – encourages rapid root growth and plant establishment. Dig the planting hole only as deep as the root ball. If the hole is dug deeper, backfill it with soil as necessary and tamp it firmly to prevent settling.
  5. 5. Container Grown vs. Ball and Burlap Handling

    a. Container Grown: Remove the tree from the container. Separate, cut, or tease out roots that are growing in a circular pattern. This encourages roots to grow out into the new planting area. Failure to do this will cause roots to continue to grow in this circular pattern, which can girdle the tree.

    b. Ball and Burlap: Cut any wire or cord from around the trunk and pull back the burlap from the top one-third of the root ball. This will allow newly formed feeder roots to grow into the new environment. When planting on poorly drained soils, remove the burlap completely.

  6. Find the trunk flare: The trunk or root flare is the point where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. The flare should be partially visible after the tree has been planted.
  7. Place the tree at the proper height in the hole: Check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth and no more. As previously mentioned, the trunk flare should be visible after the tree has been planted. This rule of thumb will help when gauging proper planting height. If the tree is planted too deep, new roots will have trouble developing because of lack of oxygen. Some landscape professionals plant the top of the root ball 1 to 2 inches above grade if they know the soil is likely to settle slightly.
  8. Straighten the tree in the hole: View the tree from several directions to make sure it is straight before backfilling.
  9. Fill the hole: Research has also shown that it is not necessary to add organic amendments, such as peat moss, compost or leaf mold, to the planting hole. Organic matter can act like a sponge in the planting hole, absorbing and holding too much moisture and causing the roots to stay too wet. When planting just one plant, it is best to backfill with the same soil removed from the hole. Be sure to break apart any clods and remove stones or other debris before refilling the hole. To eliminate air pockets, water the planting site as the backfill soil is placed in the hole. Use your hand, not your foot, to gently firm the soil around the roots.
  10. Stake the tree if necessary: Staking may be required on windy sites. Supporting devices are only temporary and should be removed a few weeks after transplanting.
  11. Shape the soil around the tree: Shape a small ring of soil, 2 to 3 inches high, along the perimeter of the planting hole. This forms a saucer on top of the soil, which directs water to the roots and prevents runoff.
  12. Mulch: Uniformly apply a 3-inch layer of mulch over the soil surface. Mulches promote rapid rooting by maintaining uniform moisture levels and temperatures in the soil and by preventing weed competition. Do not put mulch up against the trunk. This mulch to trunk contact can favor disease development from the generation of excessive moisture on the trunk.
  13. Water: Water thoroughly but slowly when finished, and water again several hours later. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Water the tree about an inch per week if it does not rain. Water more frequently during hot weather.
  14. Pruning: Look for any dead or broken limbs and prune these out. Do not over-prune. Begin structural pruning in the second or third year after planting.
  15. Fertilization: Slow-release or liquid fertilizers can be added to the planting hole, but granular general-purpose fertilizers, such as 8-8-8 or 10-10-10, can damage tender roots. Wait until the plants are established before applying a granular general-purpose fertilizer.

UGA Extension Publications

Hiring a Tree Care Service

Citrus Fruits for Southern and Coastal Georgia

Tree Ownership and Responsibility

Pruning Woody Plants

Shade Trees For Georgia

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