How To Plant A Tree Correctly

How To Plant A Tree

Learn The Proper Way To Plant Your Tree Before You Start Digging

Thinking about planting a new tree or landscape?

To properly plant trees, you should understand the characteristics of the planting sites (above and below ground growing space, soils, drainage, exposure, and light levels); the tolerances and growth characteristics of different tree species, and the benefits you want to receive from the trees.

If planted properly, your tree will be a lifetime investment that increases in value and provides numerous benefits throughout the coming years. If improperly planted, as many are these days, time and money is wasted as the tree’s health declines and it fails to get established and grow.

Before planting a new tree, do some homework and research your site’s conditions and limitations before selecting a species to plant. Once the site analysis is completed, you can select a species of tree that will thrive on that site and meet your design criteria and function for the landscape. Next you will need to find and obtain quality trees, and prepare the site for planting.

Now you are ready to plant your new tree. It might seem as easy as digging a hole and burying the roots, but there really is a lot more to it, especially if you want your tree to survive.

Below are some excellent websites and downloadable publications that you should review before selecting and planting a new tree.

Selecting The Right Trees for Your Landscape

Selecting a tree that will survive and flourish isn’t always as easy as a trip to the garden center. We often select a tree for its aesthetic attributes such as showy spring flowers, fall color, or unique leaf or bark without even looking at the site and conditions it will have to grow in. Before you get your heart set on a certain tree for your yard, there are several things you need to look at and think about.

  • Evaluate the above and below ground growing space. If high voltage electric lines exist overhead, select a tree species that will mature at 25-30 feet, such as crabapple, tree lilac, hedge maple, or ornamental cherry, to name a few.
  • Examine the soil texture, pH, drainage and compaction levels. If the soils are a heavy clay or drain slowly, that will limit species selection because many trees can not survive in these soils. Soil pH is a measure of acidity and 7.0 or greater will not grow healthy oaks and red maples.
  • If the tree will be planted along a road or sidewalk, select a species that will tolerate deicing salts.
  • Avoid selecting trees that have poor branch structure and are prone to branch breakage such as ‘Bradford’ Callery Pear, Willow, Poplar, Siberian Elm, or Silver Maple. Do not plant these close to homes or structures.
  • Avoid planting invasive species that will quickly take over a site and displace native plants, degrading habitat for native insects, birds and animals.
  • Avoid some species that are currently under stress and declining in our landscapes, due to introduced insects and diseases.

The best success will come from matching the planting site limitations with a tree that will tolerate those conditions. The following websites will provide you more in-depth information about analyzing your site conditions and selecting a tree species that will flourish in that site.

Tree Planting Resources


Planting and Aftercare of Community Trees
, a Penn State Publication


Planting Ornamentals
a Penn State Publication

Understanding Tree Planting in Construction Damaged Soils


Planting Trees in Your Community
, a Penn State Publication for Youth

The Penn State Horticulture Website contains lots of information, downloadable publications, newsletters and other helpful tips.

Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute – Learn more about Structural Soils, Site Assessment, Plant Selection and planting techniques (including a New and Improved Bare Root Planting Method)

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society – contains information about tree planting and care, including short how to videos.

National Arbor Day Foundation Tree Planting Video clips

National Arbor Day Foundation Tree Guide

Planting Trees in Designed and Built Community Landscapes: Checklists for Success

New Tree Planting – a good homeowner primer from ISA

Transplanting Landscape TreesTLC for Trees

Transplanting and Establishing Trees

Transplanting Trees Part 1- Preparing the Site – an article by Dr. Gary Watson, Researcher at the Morton Arboretum

Transplanting Trees Part 2- Moving and Storing Trees – an article by Dr. Gary Watson, Researcher at the Morton Arboretum

Transplanting Trees Part 3 – Transplanting Aftercare – an article by Dr. Gary Watson, Researcher at the Morton Arboretum

Avoiding Excess Soil on the Root Systems of Trees, a Best Management Practice – a Morton Arboretum research article

Getting Roots Right – an article by Dr. Gary Watson, Root Researchers at the Morton Arboretum

Girdling Root Formation in Landscape Trees – article by Gary Watson, Morton Arboretum

Deep Root Research an excellent website for homeowners, landscapers and nurserymen to learn more about the causes and effects of planting trees too deep

A Practitioners Guide to Stem Girdling Roots – Impacts on Trees, Symptomology, and Prevention