Nothing is more rewarding than planting a tree and watching it grow. By following the eleven steps outlined below, you can ensure decades of enjoyment from your newly planted evergreen tree.

If you have decent weather before Christmas, it's a good idea to proceed early with Steps 1 through 5 below. That way, if weather worsens while your live tree is in the house, you'll have the hardest part of the planting job already done. To make your planting job easier after Christmas, cover your pile of soil to keep it dry and help insulate it from freezing temperatures.


11 steps for planting

Use a marker to help select the location for your new tree

1. Mark the Spot
Phone ONE CALL (811 'Call before you dig') a week ahead of planting and ask them to mark all the utility lines in the area where you want to plant your tree. Also ensure your tree won't be located in a right-of-way or easement, where it could be cut down later without your consent. Use a large enough marker to see from a distance and mark the spot. Then look at it from different angles to make sure you like the location. Envision what it will look like there 20 to 30 years later.

Using a spade to cut sod out for tree planting

2. Cut the Circle
Using a spade or shovel, cut a circle in the sod twice as wide as the top of the root ball.

Removing sod squares for replanting in the lawn

3. Remove the Sod
If you have another spot in your lawn that needs some grass, remove the sod in easy to handle sizes. Otherwise, just strip off the grass and place it in a pile by itself for later composting or disposal.

Tree hole ready to be dug

4. Prepare for Digging
Make sure the digging edge on your shovel is sharp. Use a grinder or file to sharpen the shovel if it has a blunt digging edge. It's much easier to dig with a sharp shovel.
A heavy tarp next to the planting hole provides a place to pile soil. It will also make final cleanup easier and neater.

Digging onto a tarp to keep the lawn neat

5. Digging the Hole
The best way to dig a hole is by starting at the center and working outward. As you're digging, separate the soil into two piles: Good soil to be used for planting in one pile, and bad soil and rocks in a second pile, for later disposal. Dig the hole the same depth as the soil ball, or a bit shallower -- it's better to have the top of the ball higher than the surrounding soil, than too deep.

Placing an evergreen tree in the planting hole

6. Setting the Tree
Place the tree in the hole. Move the tree by lifting the root ball -- don't yank on the tree trunk, since this can loosen the root ball and damage tree roots. Ensure that the tree is at the proper depth, with the top of the root ball slightly above the surrounding soil. Try to get the tree to stand straight on its own. Lightly pack soil evenly around the base of the root ball to make the tree straight. Check straightness from at least two sides.
Removing rope from around the tree trunk 7. Rope and Twine
It's important to remove all the rope and twine tied around the tree trunk, since this can lead to girdling (choking) as the tree trunk and roots expand.

Removing the wire basket from a tree's root ball

8. Removing Future Root Constrictions
Use bolt cutters to remove at least the top half of the wire tree basket. While removing the entire basket might be ideal, it usually isn't practical, since complete removal may cause the root ball to fall apart.

Removing burlap from the root ball on a tree

9. Burlap and Synthetic Burlap
Regular brown burlap will usually rot away, but it's still desirable to uncover the top of the root ball for the best water infiltration. Synthetic burlap ("leno") and treated green burlap should be removed from as much of the ball as possible, without damaging the integrity of the root ball. Watch for extremely sharp "pinning nails" used by nurseries to hold the burlap in place.

Mulching a newly planted pine tree

10. Finish Planting the Tree
Backfill the planting hole 1/3 of the way and lightly compact the soil, ensuring the tree is still straight. Backfill the hole another 1/3 and lightly compact the soil again. Flood the planting hole with water at this point, and allow standing water to drain before you finish backfilling the hole with soil. Apply a couple inches of mulch to finish the planting job.

Newly planted pine tree

11. To Stake or not to Stake
Generally speaking, trees under 6 feet tall don't usually need staked, unless they were loose in the soil ball or are planted in extremely windy locations.
If you decide to stake a tree, check the guy wires occasionally to ensure the tree trunk isn't being girdled. All stakes and guy wires should be completely removed after one year.


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