You have finally arrived at the actual planting of your tree, but wait.. there is still more work to be done.

There will be times when planting pits have been pre-dug, but for safety reasons, often the soil at the hole site will be loosened, but will be left in place for volunteers to complete the digging process on planting day.

Before you begin, collect the tools you’ll need:

  • Trowel for planting
  • Cultivator (for weeding and soil improvement)
  • Weeder (for weeding)
  • Gloves
  • Hose/bucket of water
  • Shredded bark mulch, wood chips or leaf mulch
  • Trash bags
  • Flowers or bulbs (optional)
  • Compost (optional)

The first thing to do if you are digging the hole is to remove the bag from the root ball and place it next to the hole.  As you dig, place the excavated soil into the bag. In digging a hole, it seems good to start at the center and dig outward.  This way, it is easy to take smaller slices of soil at a time.

Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the root mass, and only as deep as you need so when the tree is placed in the hole and held down, the root flare will be level or just a bit above existing ground level.

Before placing the tree in the hole, check for any broken limbs or branches that should be removed. You may want to take any tags or ribbons off the tree also.  All of these items can be discarded in the hole.

Place the tree in the hole and after verifying the hole is the correct size, make sure the tree is straight and then start to backfill with excavated material.

You can add some organic material to the pit if the soil is very bad, but be aware that you don’t want to create a ‘flowerpot effect;’ that is , the soil in the planting pit is so much superior to the surrounding soil that the roots will hesitate to leave that pit area.   If the soil is bad, you may be better off to dig a hole 3 to 4 times wider than the root mass and add organic matter to the entire area. This rarely happens if you are digging by hand.

As soon as the tree is able to stand upright, set and pound in the tree stakes.  It is much easier to do this way as you will have an 18” +/- head start.

Get the stakes in and then complete backfilling; as you backfill, take the handle of your shovel and gently maneuver some of the soil into the nooks and crannies of the tree pit.

If you have water available, add with the soil as you backfill. Water forces out any air pockets and helps the soil get in contact with roots.

The main goal in backfilling is to get as much soil in contact with as many roots as possible.

Tree Planting Image


Connect poly-lock or whatever staking material you are using to connect the tree to the stakes. These stakes will be removed in no more than a year.

Walk around the base of the tree, firmly pressing and compacting the soil to ensure that it does not cover the root flare

You can now add a 2-4” layer of much, at least as wide as the planting pit, but try to leave the mulch off the trunk of tree, so in a sense you are creating a saucer around tree with mulch.

Now run to the next tree and repeat, repeat, repeat.