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:
1. DIG A HOLE 3 INCHES DEEPER THAN THE LENGTH OF THE ROOTS
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.
2. CAREFULLY REMOVE THE SEEDLING 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.
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.
4. BUILD A RAISED BERM TO HELP DIRECT WATER FLOW
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.
5. ADD MULCH TO HELP WITH WATER RETENTION AND WEEDS
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.
6. WATER YOUR NEW TREE TO HELP IT ACCLIMATE TO ITS NEW HOME!
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!