Young Trees are Vulnerable Trees 

We all get told how essential trees are to our lives; there are numerous benefits to be had when planting trees. If you have read the article on Tree Selection and Placement you will know which tree is now suited to your area of land. Therefore, the next real question many have asked is "What about tips on planting trees". The below article describes in detail the best possible way to give your tree a head start in life.

What time of year to plant?

The best time to plant majority of trees is the winter time. Either after leaf-drop in the autumn or before bud-break in the spring. During this period the majority of trees are dormant and the weather is cool. It allows the tree to establish itself before the period of growth in the spring or summer. That said, most nurseries will sell trees all year round, this is because they are well treated and looked after. In extreme cases, you can plant at any time of year, by doing this the steps below become even more important.

Planting Stress

When you buy a tree from a nursery you will find it to be balled and burlapped, this is the best and easiest way to transport and reduce stress on the young tree. Try not to keep it in this form for too long and get it in the ground the same day you purchased it. ‘Transplant shock’ is what happens to a tree when it loses large portions of its rooting system, proper site preparation, careful handling and good follow-up care will reduce the effects of transplant shock and promote faster recovery.
There are nine steps laid out by the International Society of Arboriculture to follow when planting trees, following these will give your tree the best chance early on.

1. Identify the trunk flare

This is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. It is important to consider this as depending on what type of tree you are planting trunk flare can happen rather quickly on a fast growing species. This part of the tree needs to be the strongest as it’s closest to the ground so the most likely part of the tree to get knocked, albeit by accident or not. If the trunk flare is not visible when you have purchased the tree then remove some of the soil at the base until you can see it.

2. Dig a broad and shallow planting hole

The planting hole should be approximately 2-3 times wider than the root ball itself but no deeper. The reason for this is that the surrounding soil is broken up and therefore allows the new roots to find their way through and become established much faster. Please remember to locate ALL underground utilities before digging any hole.

3. Remove the container/ wire basket/ netting

Give the tree roots a good and thorough inspection before putting it down. You may need to cut away any dead of deformed roots. You can often straighten out any roots manually if they are circling back into the root ball.

4. Put the tree at the correct height

As stated above, do not dig the hole any deeper than the root ball itself, this is very important. The main roots of a young tree form in the top 30cm of soil and by planting the tree deeper you limit the amount of water and oxygen a tree is able to take in. In heavily clayed soil, a tree can be planted even higher up to ensure water can soak down around the rooting system. Remember to lift the tree by the root ball and not the trunk when possible.

5. Straighten the tree in the hole

We have all put a Christmas tree up only to realise its not standing straight. The same situation occurs here only it’s much harder to reposition the tree once in the ground. Have someone view the tree from several directions before backfilling the soil.


6. Backfill the hole gently but firmly

Firstly pack the soil around the root ball to stabilize it. Remove anything that is holding the root ball together such as plastic, string or wire. When happy, fill in the rest of the soil firmly. The reason for this is to eliminate any air pockets that could potentially dry the roots out and not allow them to do their job of absorbing nutrients. If possible, water halfway through backfilling so all soil is moist, giving the plant the best chance of establishment.

7. Stake only if needed

It has been proven that when a tree is not staked, it establishes quicker and development of trunk and root systems become stronger. Therefore, it's often best not to conduct this practice. However, if the tree requires protection from animals, vandalism or a lawn mower then one or two stakes can be used as supports. Ensure a flexible material is used around the tree itself to minimize injury. Rubber is usually best for this. Stakes should be removed after the first year’s growth.

8. Mulch

Many people think that once a tree is planted it will fend for itself and thrive off the land. This is wrong. Mulch is organic matter such as broken down leaves, woodchip or compost that should be spread around the tree helping it to hold moisture, enrich and insulate the soil. You can read my article on mulching by clicking here.
Mulch should be spread in 2-4 inch layers to become most effective. Anymore than 4 inches may cut oxygen and moisture levels to underlying soil and root systems. Mulch will be available from any local reputable garden centre.

9. After-care

Keep a good eye on the tree you have planted and hopefully you will be able to catch any bad signs and take measures early. Soil should be kept moist but not water logged. If hot conditions are forecast, water the tree about once a week. Watch the colour of the leaves and bark as these are usually the first to discolour should a problem occur. Other after-care may include pruning branches if they were damaged in the planting process. Be careful not to prune too much within the first season, only a few branches is not usually a problem.
By conducting the plan outlined above you should see many years of growth from your newly planted tree. I hope my guide has been useful and should you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.
Click here to go to our Useful Links page to find details of local nurseries and other handy contacts.
Thanks for reading.
Sam Clark
Tree Surgeon
SPC Tree Services

To see the full list of tree surgeon pocket guides - Click Here