Tree And Shrub Planting Guide

Trees can be purchased three ways: bare root (no soil on the roots), containers (pots), and B&B (ball and burlap). Bare root trees should only be purchased and planted in the early spring before the trees start getting their leaves. Shrubs are most often placed in containers; some can be purchased early as bare root.


If you have purchased a bare root tree or shrub, open immediately and place in a bucket of water until planting. Do not leave the plant in the water longer than 48 hours, but no shorter than 8 hours. If you have purchased a tree either in a container or B&B keep the container or the roots in the shade and do not allow it to dry out. At the same time do not over water. Scratch the surface of the dirt in the container and if it is dry 1” below the surface then water the plant. For B&B push against the ball, if it is wet to the touch or if your fingers sink 1” into the ball do not water, if the ball is pretty stiff then water slowly to allow the roots to absorb it.

Site Preparation and Planting:

Proper site preparation before and during planting, coupled with good follow-up care, reduces the amount of time the plant experiences transplant shock and allows the tree or shrub to quickly establish in its new location. Follow the eight steps below and give your nursery stock the best chance you can.

Step #1: Dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the size of the tree roots. For example, if the container is 1.5’ wide and 2’ deep then the hole should be 3’ wide and 4’ deep. Mix 50/50 soil from the hole with a neutral potting soil (one that has no fertilizer mixed in it). DO NOT PUT ANY FERTILIZER, MANURE, OR COMPOST IN THE SOIL WHEN PLATING YOUR NEW TREE. For shrubs dig the hole three times wider than the roots.

Step #2: Fill in the hole with the new mixed soil to allow the tree to be at the correct height. Build up a small rise at the bottom of the hole for trees to rest on to prevent the tree from dropping too low as the ground settles. For shrubs leave the bottom of the hole undisturbed.

Step #3: Fill the hole with water and let it completely drain out before placing the plant in the hole.

Step #4: Shrubs: Roll the shrub container on the ground to loosen the root ball. Place your hand around the base of the plant and turn the container upside down catching the plant in your hand. Place the shrub in the hole and fill with the mixed soil gently but firmly tamping the soil around the shrub. Trees: If the tree is bare root dig a hole large enough for the roots to spread out. Place the tree in the hole and fill on top of the roots tamping gently but firmly as the hole is filled. If the tree is in a container lay it on its side and loosen the root ball, then slide it out of the container while putting the least amount of stress on the roots of the tree. Place the tree in the hole on the rise, making sure the base of the tree is 1-2” above the level of the surrounding ground. Have someone hold the tree while you place the soil back into the hole around the roots, lightly tamp down the soil. If the tree is B&B first remove any wire caging that might be wrapped around the root ball. Second, lower the tree into the hole. While someone is holding the tree upright remove the burlap from around the trunk and cut all strings wrapped around the root ball. After the strings have been removed, cut off as much of the burlap as possible or cut the burlap length wise in strips without causing the root ball to collapse. Fill in the hole with the mixed soil, tamping the soil lightly.

Step #5: After the tree or shrub has been planted and the hole has been filled with soil, water slowly until the soil settles around the roots as necessary. If the soil seems too low add small amounts of soil on top and water until the desired level is reached.

Step #6: Weed barrier topped with mulch, rock or bark placed around the truck of the tree or shrub will help it retain its moisture. If mulch is added it is important to make sure there is a small area around the base of the plants that is left empty. Don’t place the mulch up the trunk of the tree or high on the branches of a shrub.

Step #7: The last thing to do would be to stake the trees. Stake each tree using at least two stakes on opposite sides. Use a flexible material to wrap around the tree; something like an old garden hose, old nylons, or tree straps. Don’t allow any abrasive material next to the truck to wound the tree by cutting into or rubbing off the bark.

Step #8: Maintain the plant by keeping the soil moist but not soaked. It is almost easier to overwater a new plant than to underwater it. Overwatering causes leaves to turn yellow or fall off. Water trees at least once a week, barring rain, and more frequently during hot weather. To check moisture content stick your finger in the soil up to your second knuckle, if the soil is wet don’t water, if it is dry water. Each time you water make sure the plant is watered deeply. Allow the water to run slowly for a long period of time. As summer turns to fall the trees will require less water, so adjust as needed. If during the winter snow is scarce, water the trees at least twice a month. As temperatures rise during the spring start watering regularly early. If the plant has been planted in the spring or early summer fertilize in late fall. If the tree or shrub has been planted in the fall wait to fertilize until early spring.

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