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How to Plant a Small Tree

Boost your curb appeal with a handsome addition to your landscape

landscapers secure the newly planted tree in its hole
Photo by Ryan Benyi

Q: I'd like to purchase a small tree. What's the proper way to plant it?
—Maria Costa, Holbrook, Mass.

Kim Hren, Groundworks Landscaping Inc., replies: The hardest part about planting any tree is moving it. A 6- to 8-footer with its root ball could easily weigh 200 pounds or more. If you plan on planting it yourself, have the garden center either help you pick a size that's easier to handle or deliver it to your house right where you want to plant it.

Make sure the site you select is at least 15 feet from the house, power lines, and other trees. And before you start digging, be sure to call 811. You'll be put in touch with a local service company that marks the location of any buried utility lines free of charge, saving you from any costly surprises.
Once those details are taken care of, proceed with the steps on the next page. Your few hours of labor will pay off handsomely with a boost in curb appeal that will only get better with time.

Pictured: Landscapers Andy Silich and Randy Leland of Groundworks Landscaping secure the tree in its hole. Get a helper for any tree weighing more than 100 pounds.


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.

 
 
 

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