How to Plant a Tree to Help the Environment

Diana Chaplin | September 17, 2020 | 5 min read

Here's How to Plant a Tree Step by Step

Looking for a way to create a healthy environment close to home? Plant a tree! Even if you plant just one, it will help clean the air, filter water, offset carbon, create shade, give birds a place to build a nest, enrich the soil, and provide food and shelter for small creatures. And that's just the shortlist of the many benefits of trees.

There are a few things to think about before you start planting. When, where, and how you plant your tree will affect its survival.

When is the best time to plant a tree?
The best times to plant a tree are usually in spring or fall when weather conditions are moist and cool. Pick a location where your tree will thrive and that you're close to so that you can watch it grow for many years to come.

Here's a video on the 6 steps to plant a tree:

How to choose which tree species to plant:
You can visit your local tree nursery or garden center to find the best species of the tree to plant based on your climate, soil type, and seed zone. Nursery staff are usually very knowledgeable about this and can help answer any questions.

Follow these simple steps to plant a tree:

Digging a hole to plant a tree


Tip: Choose a place with good wind protection.

If your site is exposed to the wind, use nearby objects (like a rock or stick) to create a windbreak. Then, plant on the north side of the windbreak for shade and wind protection. And remember: the cooler and shadier, the better, so if you’re on a hillside, make sure that you’re planting on the north slope. That way, the sapling won't get too much sun. 

Gently removing sapling from its container


Tip: Gently loosen the soil to help the roots spread out.

Make sure your seedling isn't root bound. If it is, you may have to cut an X through the bottom of the root ball to break it up, but if it isn’t too bad, simply use your hand to gently break up the pattern. Exercise caution, because if you’re too rough with the roots, you’ll increase the risk of the tree going into transplant shock.

Nestling the Sapling into the hole

3. gently nestle it into the hole and backfill, compressing as you go

Tip: Make sure it's centered and upright.

Think of this step as placing the seedling in a “bowl” that will be filled with water. Taking a little extra care during this step will help ensure that the roots get enough water to do their job. Once it's placed, backfill with the removed soil and compress in layers until the roots are entirely covered, but the trunk flare remains partially aboveground.

Backfilling and compressing the hole


Tip: Create a funnel that will allow water to drain towards the tree.

Now is also the time to do the tug test: lightly tug the tree to check that the soil is sufficiently compacted — if you can pull it right out, it’s not secure enough! And if you’re planting on a north slope, consider fortifying the downhill side with whatever's handy (like rocks and sticks) to keep the soil from washing away. 

Building a raised berm


Tip: Make a ring of mulch around the tree but avoid letting it touch the bark.

Be sure to leave a baseball-sized perimeter around the stem, because mulch retains moisture and can cause rot if it touches.  Done properly, mulch shields the soil from heavy precipitation and sun, which helps prevent water from evaporating right off the surface before the tree gets a chance to drink.

adding mulch for water retention


Tip: 1 gallon of water once a week should be sufficient for most seedlings.

Watering will help your new tree respond to the stress of being transplanted, and encourage the roots to grow. If you want to get really fancy, you can set up a drip irrigation system that will slowly feed water to the roots over time. This will really give things a boost!.

Taking care of your tree: 

Now that you’ve got the planting part down, here are a few other things to ensure the long-term survival of your tree!

Research your environment: Read up on your local climate, gardening zone, soil type, and the best native species to plant. Or just talk with nursery staff, who are generally happy to share their knowledge!

Plant during fall or spring (as far away from the heat of the summer as you can): Ideally, trees should be planted during the dormant season. In the fall, this is after leaf drop, and in early spring, it’s before bud break. This allows tender saplings to establish roots before things really heat up and conditions encourage intense foliage growth.

Don’t amend the soil unless absolutely necessary: In some cases, it is, but researchers have found that adding too much compost to the hole can prevent the roots from venturing into the surrounding soil. The long-term affects of this include a smaller root system, reduced growth, and a less hardy plant. Still want to give it a leg up? Blend some amendment with the existing soil.

Consider setting up an irrigation system: At least at first. Deep, slow watering allows the soil to slowly saturate, reducing runoff and giving the roots plenty of time to drink.

If fertilizer is necessary, hold off until the tree has had a chance to establish itself: At this beginning stage, all of the tree’s energy should be concentrated on root development to build a solid foundation for long-term growth and survival. When you’re ready to fertilize, use a slow-release, non-burning organic fertilizer — this will help prevent shock.

Proper follow-up care is just as important as proper planting: Keep a close eye on things, watching for outward signs of distress and making any necessary adjustments. Water trees at least once a week (unless it rains), and more often during hot or windy weather. But don’t over-water them either — the soil should be moist but not water-logged.

So there you have it! With our tree planting tips, you should be able to confidently plant a tree at home, and we highly recommend it. It's a great feeling! Still want to leave the planting to us? That's fine, too!

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. Today, we're raising funds to jumpstart forest fire recovery in British Columbia. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Restore landscapes damaged by a historic season of wildfires
  • Create habitat for iconic biodiversity like the moose and grizzly bear
  • Support old-growth management areas to maintain complex ecosystems
  • This reforestation initiative is helping to restore the landscape in British Columbia after the Hanceville fire burned over 590,000 acres in 2017 and natural regeneration has not occurred. The fire has impacted the forest, soils, riparian ecosystems, wildlife, and water quality. Local indigenous communities have seen their ability to hunt and gather food drastically altered. But your support will go a long way! The goal of planting trees here is to not only re-establish a healthy forest, but also to plant species that will be resilient in the face of climate change. Thank you so much for your support of healthy forests! 🌲
  • Planting trees will catalyze the process of returning the area to a forested state. Newly planted trees will begin the process of sequestering atmospheric carbon, and over time improve the hydrological benefits of the forest. The ecosystems that have been greatly simplified by extreme fire conditions will once again become complex ecosystems, This project will also create habitat for many local wildlife species including mule deer, moose, black and grizzly bear, wolves, sandhill cranes, various raptors, songbirds, and small mammals.
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • B.C.'s rich forest diversity includes more than 40 different species of native trees, with some of Canada’s most interesting and valuable tree species. In this project, we made efforts to maximize species diversity, including the following species: Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, hybrid spruce, ponderosa pine, trembling aspen.

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