Life Times Newsletter

Spring 2005
Vol. 7, No. 2

Planting trees in your yard

Spring is here, and with it, we’re seeing all sorts of trees at local garden centers. With lots of trees to choose from, you should carefully select the right tree.

Things to consider before buying a tree include the tree’s growth rate and height, water needs and shade tolerance. In other words, make sure you plant the right tree in the right spot! This article focuses on how to plant and care for your tree once you’ve brought it home.

Regardless of what type of tree you buy, it will suffer stress from transplanting. As a result, proper site preparation, planting technique and maintenance will help to ensure the tree becomes established and thrives in its new environment.

Step 1: Selecting a quality tree

First, make sure the tree you purchase is in good condition. If it’s a bare-root tree, select a tree with a large, well-balanced root system. Make sure the roots are not dried or shriveled. If you choose a balled and burlapped tree, choose one with firm soil around the roots and with as large of a soil ball as possible (so it will contain more roots). Remember: The more roots a transplanted tree starts with, the more likely it is to survive.

For example, if you choose a tree with a 2-inch-diameter trunk, then it should also have a soil ball at least 24 inches in diameter. In addition, the trunk should not wobble in the soil ball. Once you purchase your tree, remember to keep it in good condition until it can be planted. Water it regularly, and never let the roots dry out.

Step 2: Digging the hole

When digging the hole for a tree, keep in mind that most of the tree’s roots will grow within 12 inches of the soil surface. You should not plant the tree any deeper than it grew in the nursery. In fact, before you place the tree in the hole, brush back some of the soil on top of the roots to make sure you plant the tree with the roots near the soil surface.

Tree roots will grow very slowly in dense soil. Take time to loosen the soil around your planting hole to a depth of about 8 to 12 inches and a diameter of about 2 to 3 times the diameter of the soil ball. This will encourage the roots to grow faster and farther out into the soil.

Carefully place the tree in the center of the planting hole; remove any twine or rope from around the trunk. Also remove the burlap from the top of the soil ball. If it came in a wire basket, remove the top row of squares to prevent hitting them with a mower. Backfill the planting hole and apply mulch as soon as possible.

Step 3: Mulching and care

Mulch will help to conserve soil moisture and prevent competition for soil nutrients from turfgrass and other plants. Mulch should never be deeper than 4 inches, but apply it out as far around the tree as possible.

Remember to water the new tree regularly. An effective way to water the tree is to use drip irrigation. The simplest and probably least expensive method is to drill small holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket to allow water to slowly trickle into the root system. This can be done 2 to 3 times per week to keep the root ball moist without drowning the tree. By using this method, you will know exactly how much water you have added.

Source: University of Missouri Extension Guidesheet G6850, How to Plant a Tree. Available free online at

See also the following guidesheets, available free online or in print for a small fee:

G6800, Selecting Landscape Plants: Shade Trees

G6805, Selecting Landscape Plants: Flowering Trees

G6815, Selecting Landscape Plants: Needled Evergreens

For more information, contact your local University of Missouri Extension office. Contact information is available online at

Timothy W. Horton

Horticulture Specialist

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller