landscapers secure the newly planted tree in its hole
Steps // How to Plant a Small Tree
1 ×

Dig the Hole

 
Step One // How to Plant a Small Tree

Dig the Hole

man with tape measure checking the depth of a hole by measuring from the shovel handle laid across the hole
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Dig a hole 1 foot in diameter for every 1 inch of trunk diameter, and 2 inches shallower than the distance from the bottom of the root ball to the root flare, where the trunk emerges from the ball. If you can't see the flare, pull back some of the burlap. Keep track of the depth with a shovel handle laid across the hole and a measuring tape.

 
2 ×

Amend the Soil

 
Step Two // How to Plant a Small Tree

Amend the Soil

man pours fertilizer into the backfill of a hole
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Pour a 3-4-3 starter fertilizer into the backfill and blend it in. Do not overfertilize; use only the amount listed on the bag for your root-ball size.

 
3 ×

Position the Tree

 
Step Three // How to Plant a Small Tree

Position the Tree

two men roll balled and burlapped tree into hole to plant it
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Gently roll the tree into the hole and set it upright. Rotate the tree until its best side faces the street (if it's in the front yard) or the house (if it's in the backyard).

 
4 ×

Backfill with Soil

 
Step Four // How to Plant a Small Tree

Backfill with Soil

man fills the hole around a newly planted tree with backfill from the hole
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Cut away the wire basket to at least 6 inches below the root ball's shoulder, and pull back the burlap. Use a cultivator to loosen the soil around the root ball. Backfill with the excavated soil up to grade. Tamp lightly as you go along to eliminate any air pockets.

 
5 ×

Water and Mulch

 
Step Five // How to Plant a Small Tree

Water and Mulch

hand pulling away mulch around the base of a tree
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Form a 6-inch-high soil dam around the tree at the edge of the hole, then soak the roots with water. Knock down the lip after the water has been absorbed. Add mulch about 3 inches deep all around the tree, but pull it away from the trunk to discourage rot. Keep the roots moist by wrapping a Treegator water bag or two around the trunk. Fill it once a week for the next two years.

 

Shop Related Products

 

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.