Successful Tree Planting

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SeedlingsTree Planting Instructions and Detail Drawing 
Planning ahead is the most important step you can take to ensure that the time and money you invest in planting a new tree is well spent. The key to successful landscaping is to plant the right tree in the right place. This means paying attention to how tall the tree will grow and not planting it too close to your house or under a power line.  

Don't forget to call before you dig.
The NC One-Call Center (1-800-632-4949 or 1-800-632-8111) is a service that can help you locate underground utilities. Contact the One-Call Center at least two working days in advance to find out if there are underground lines you need to avoid.

Tips for Successful Tree Planting
1. Start with the right tree for the spot. Check for proximity to buildings, overhead lines, and underground utilities such as water and sewer lines. Large trees should be placed at least 20 feet from any of these. Check for very wet or dry soil conditions, the amount of sun or shade the tree will get, and choose a tree suited for those conditions.

2. Dig a bowl-shaped hole three to five times the width of the root ball and slightly more shallow than the height of the ball. Break up the surface of the outer walls of the hole to give young roots an opportunity to grow into the ground beyond the hole. 

3. When moving trees, always carry them by the container or root ball, not the trunk.

4. If planting a ball-and-burlap tree, place the tree in the center of the hole and remove as much of the wire, strapping, and burlap as possible, as these will inhibit root growth.

5. If planting a container tree, remove the pot. If the roots appear to be circling the root ball, cut an “X” in the bottom of the pot with a sharp knife, and make four cuts down the sides of the root ball. Place the tree in the center of the hole.

6. Locate the root flare, where the large structural roots come out from the bottom of the trunk. Sometimes the root flare is covered up in the pot or burlap casing. If needed, remove soil to expose the root flare.

7. Once the tree is in the hole, measure again. Add soil to the bottom of the hole if needed to make sure the root flare will be at the level of the existing ground or an inch or two above it.

8. Return soil to hole in three- to four-inch layers, watering each layer well to remove air pockets. Soil may be amended with pine bark fines or well-aged compost to attain an organic content of up to 20 percent. It is not useful to amend the soil with more organic matter than this, as it may actually inhibit the roots from extending beyond the planting hole.

9. Use soil to form a lip around the edge of the hole that will contain water.

10. Mulch the planting area with two to three inches of pine bark, pine needles, well-aged wood chips, or other organic mulch. Keep mulch six inches away from the trunk of the tree.

11. Water the tree at least once a week for the first month in the ground and continue watering the tree regularly throughout the first spring, summer, and fall. Watering frequency will depend on weather conditions; if the weather is very hot and dry, you may need to water every other day, otherwise water at least once a week. It is better to water deeply, letting the hose run at a low level for an hour, and less frequently to allow the roots to move deeply into the soil rather than seeking water close to the surface.

Additional Resources
For information about tree sizes and site needs, see the NC Agricultural Extension Plant fact Sheets. For more information and videos on tree planting, see the National Arbor Day website.
View more information about trees.