Tree-Planting Tips for Arbor Day 2010

potted maple
Photo by Shari Altman
National Arbor Day is Friday, April 30. Many folks celebrate by planting trees. But did you know that there are different ways to plant a tree based on how the roots are packaged? Today, I'm sharing some easy tips to help you properly plant those Arbor Day trees.


Arbor Day is a wonderful excuse to add a new tree to your existing landscape. It's important, however, to take time to select the proper tree and the proper location to ensure healthy growth.

Before you choose a tree, take into consideration where you want to plant the tree. Then select a tree that works well in that location. Don't forget to keep in mind your plant hardiness zone, exposure, and the mature height and shape of the tree.

You can buy trees that come bare root, balled and burlapped, or in containers. Each of these preparations has distinct planting methods.

For bare root trees:

  • Soak roots for at least three hours before planting; don't let the roots dry out!
  • Trim off any damaged roots
  • Dig a wide hole that will accommodate the spreading roots
  • Place tree in the hole and then fill in with soil
  • Make a water holding area, or berm, around the tree
  • Water deeply (you'll need to water once a week for the first year)
  • Mulch around but not up to the trunk

For ball and burlap trees:

  • Place tree in hole with the burlap on
  • Remove top portion of burlap
  • Find the root flare, where the trunk begins to spread
  • Fill in soil up to but not covering the root flare
  • Make a water berm
  • Water deeply
  • Mulch but do not cover the root flare

For trees in containers:

  • Remove tree from the container
  • If the tree is pot-bound, gently break up the roots
  • If you notice roots that completely encircle the root ball, cut them to avoid girdling
  • Put the tree in the hole, spreading out the roots
  • Water deeply
  • Fill in the hole with soil, pack down gently
  • Make a water berm
  • Water deeply
  • Mulch around the tree but not up to the trunk

About holes:

A general rule for digging holes is that the hole should be twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball.

To stake or not to stake:

Generally, trees are better off if you don't stake them. In fact, trees need to sway in the wind in order to build a strong trunk.

The Arbor Day Foundation website features excellent tree-planting videos that correspond to each planting method above. Also, this tree and shrub planting fact sheet from The University of Massachusetts is worth a look.

Will you be planting a tree on Arbor Day? What kind?

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