How to Plant a Tree - Tips from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation


HOW TO PLANT A TREE - tips from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Planting a tree is not especially difficult. Doing it correctly, however, makes a huge difference in whether or not the tree's roots become established and the tree survives beyond its first couple of years in the ground. Here are tips on successful planting.
  • Choose native trees over non-natives if possible (for wildlife benefits and adaptability to local soil, water, and temperature conditions)
  • Match the tree species to the site. For example, trees that like "wet feet" include red maple, river birch, and green ash. In drier, sunny areas, plant American beech, black cherry, and loblolly pine. (see our list of recommended native tree and shrub species)
  • Note: Most restoration sites along waterways and wetlands are already cleared of vegetation. Planting a variety of riparian trees and shrubs that are both sun and shade tolerant will quickly create a forested buffer.

Creating the Hole
  • "Dig wide and not too deep" are the watchwords here. The hole should be at least two to three times wider than the diameter of the root ball or top of the container.
  • The hole should be the same depth (and no deeper) as the root ball in the container or burlap ball.
    Use your shovel to measure both the hole's width and height.
  • Place the soil that you dig up in a neat pile at the edge of the hole so that no soil is lost when the hole is refilled.
    Loosen the soil within the hole to create a space where roots can spread.

Planting the Tree
  • Loosen the tree roots in its container by first pressing down and rolling the container's sides with your foot.
  • Holding the tree by its trunk, carefully pull the tree out of the container.
  • If the roots are wrapped around the root ball, loosen them with your hand or shovel. Cut especially long roots to encourage new growth.
  • Place the tree and root ball in the hole, making sure that they are at the proper depth and width. Dig out or fill in the hole if necessary.
  • Center the root ball, spread out the tree's roots, and make sure the tree trunk is straight.
  • Fill in the root area with soil in stages and pack it down each time with your feet (do not step directly on the root ball). All roots should be in direct contact with the soil.
  • Fill the hole up to the level of the container's soil line. Adjust the root ball level if necessary by adding or removing soil.
  • Create a berm with the soil around the hole to help retain rainwater.
  • Mulch with two to three inches on top of the hole. Do not pile the mulch too high or let it touch the trunk (incorrect use of mulch can smother the roots or cause the bark to rot, inviting insects and disease).
  • Water slowly, deeply, and thoroughly.
Do's and Don'ts of Tree Planting
  • Do not add soil amendments or fertilizers to the planting hole.
  • Use organic compost as a top dressing only.
  • Do not prune or stake your newly planted tree (if left on too long, ties and stakes can strangle and kill the tree).
  • Mulch new trees at least as far out as the spread of branches.
Recommended Native Tree and Shrub Species for Riparian Areas
These tree species thrive in or are tolerant of moist soils:
  • Green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
  • River birch (Betula nigra)
  • Black gum ( Nyssa sylvatica)
  • Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
  • Red maple (Acer rubrum)
  • Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
  • Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolis virginiana)
  • Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda)
  • Black willow (Salix nigra)
  • Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
  • Willow oak (Quercus phellos)
Some shrubs that can planted in the understory (they do well in the shade produced by the trees above):
  • Southern arrowood (Viburnum dentatum)
  • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Buttonbush (Cephalantus occidentalis)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

How to plant a tree infomation came from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation website.

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