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How to Plant a Tree: 10 Easy Steps!

As we’re gearing up to give away HUNDREDS of trees to Denton residents as part of our Community Tree Giveaway, we are thinking a lot about tree PLANTING.

Now, some of you might have a thumb that’s so green, everything you touch turns to rosebuds and daisies; the rest of us should be so lucky! The good news is, you don’t have to be an arborist or an avid gardener to know how to properly plant a tree. Trees are so valuable and provide so many benefits – we want to make sure that everyone is comfortable planting one!

Bassett Family 2
A young tree planter from a past Tree Giveaway Program

To help give you the confidence to plant your tree and give it a great start, we are breaking down the tree planting process into 10 easy steps! We’ll also include few in-depth resources to help you properly plant your tree. These resources are geared toward 3-gallon size containerized trees (example pictured), as this is the size distributed through KDB’s Community Tree Giveaway program. Ready? Here we go!

STEP 1: Be gentle with your tree. How you handle your tree can have an impact on its health before you even get it in the ground. Carry your containerized tree by the container – not the trunk! Be careful not to break the branches.

STEP 2: Choose your spot carefully. Think about the height and the spread of the branches when your tree is fully grown. If you aren’t sure how big a particular tree species typically grows, consult KDB’s online Tree Species Guide for 2016. There are a few factors to consider when you pick a spot for your tree. Use the Right Tree, Right Space philosophy, and be sure to avoid planting under power lines to minimize the need for City-funded tree trimming. And don’t forget those below-ground lines! Texas 811 will mark underground lines for free, so you can avoid taking out the neighbors’ cable TV when planting your new tree.

STEP 3: Gently work your tree out of its container by laying it on its side, and carefully rolling it from side to side, while applying slight pressure to the container; the tree’s root ball should easily slip out of the container once it is loosened from the sides.

Source: University of Florida

STEP 4: Inspect your tree for circling roots (pictured at right), which are often found in containerized trees. Don’t be concerned if you find circling roots on your tree – just take a sharp pocket knife and slice a large “x” across the root ball. Use your fingers to pull the roots apart and loosen the dirt. Current research shows you can be pretty rough with this process, and it won’t hurt your tree at ALL. In fact, it helps the roots to get established more easily.

STEP 5: Dig the hole at least TWICE as wide as the container. Slope the sides of the hole, and place the tree (without its container) in the center, so that the roots have plenty of room to spread. Then fill the hole back in with the original soil. That’s right – NO extra soil or fertilizer is needed when planting your tree! Loosely pack the soil around the tree’s roots, stopping at the top-most visible root on the root ball. Tamp the soil gently with your feet.

STEP 6: Give your tree a good gulp of water after planting. Water helps fill any gaps of air from backfilling. Also, baby trees are thirsty! They require deep watering at least once a week – especially during dry or very hot weather. Once your native or adapted tree is well established (around two years), you shouldn’t have to water it very frequently. Watch this video on tree watering for tips and best practices; “slow and low” watering (keeping water at ground-level, with a slow, steady water pressure) is key!

Source: Arbor Day Foundation

STEP 7: Cover the back-filled dirt with no more than 3 to 4 inches of mulch. Mulch helps keep the weeds at bay, plus it helps retain moist soil. Be sure to keep the mulch away from your tree’s trunk to avoid pests and disease!

STEP 8: Remove tags, labels, rope, or string from your tree, as these can hurt your tree as it grows.

STEP 9: Steer clear of fertilizers and amendments. There is no need to add these to your tree. If planted properly, the native soil and routine watering is all it needs. Be sure to water every 2-3 days, or as often as needed to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. After your tree has been growing for about a year, you can consider pruning branches and dead limbs as needed. Read up on proper pruning practices, or call a certified arborist if you need help!

STEP 10: Enjoy your tree!

Need more resources? Here’s a few of our favorites!

This video from Casey Trees in Washington, DC offers step-by-step tree planting instructions.

Become a volunteer expert on all things trees through the Denton Citizen Forester Training Program, offered as part of the Denton Tree Initiative.

These sites provide reliable, evidence-based info on tree planting, tree care, and other tree-related info:

How to Plant a Tree from Texas Trees

Tree Planting Resources from Texas A&M Forest Service

Trees are Key Podcast, and the Texas A&M Forest Service Twitter Page

American Forests Twitter Page

Arbor Day Foundation Tree Info Page

International Society of Arboriculture