Moving, placing and digging the hole for a tree

Balled & Burlapped Trees (B&B)

Larger landscape sized trees are usually balled and burlapped, or "B&B" as they are referred to in the landscaping business. Due to the weight of soil root balls (soil averages 100 lbs a cubic foot) moving and planting a large balled tree can be a daunting task usually best to professionals with experience and equipment.

Balled and burlapped trees - B&B
B&B trees at a nursery in Spring

Tree Moving How-to

  • Burlapped trees should be moved by lifting the root ball instead of pulling on the trunk - it's easy to damage the small roots on a balled plant.

  • If you are transporting a tree with leaves on it, wrap the branches with burlap or a mesh tarp to protect it from the drying effects of the wind. Try to drive slowly to minimize windburn.

  • Be careful...

  • It's easy to hurt your back when moving a heavy tree.

  • Avoid the use of make-shift planks for ramps than can slip out. The weight of a heavy root ball can crush a person, causing very serious injuries!

  • Branches often poke you, so protect your eyes.

  • Pinning nails are used by nurserymen to hold burlap on the root ball -- the points are extremely sharp and will snag you if you aren't careful.

Pinning nails used to secure burlap on a B&B tree
Pinning nails for securing burlap have very sharp points

Placing trees in the landscape

Tree placement should take into consideration a tree's growing requirements, maximum size, easements, right-of-ways, and property lines.

Lawn tree

  • Right-of-ways may extend 15 feet or more into your lawn area from the street. Consider that someday sidewalks might be added to that area.

  • Laws may allow neighbors to trim off branches reaching over their property line. Check your local laws and ordinances, and even if you are allowed to trim off a neighbor's tree branches, try to discuss the issue with them first in order to maintain a good neighborly relationship.

  • If you plant a tree over a utility line that may need to be dug up later, it could mean the tree will have to be cut down.

  • How is drainage? Most plants don't like soggy soil.


  • Use trees to block ugly views, but don't block the desirable views.

  • Deciduous trees only screen during the growing season, while evergreens will provide screening all year.

  • If you plant deciduous trees on the south or west side of your house, it will help cool your house in summer while allowing winter sunlight through to warm your house.

  • Hedges of trees will act as windbreaks against cold winter northwesterly winds.

  • Buried utility lines, wires and underground hazards? Check before you dig. Call "One Call" - a free service for marking underground utilities - and do it a couple weeks ahead to allow time for the various utilities to mark the area. Landscape lighting, lamp post wires and electric dog fence wires are often shallow and very easy to damage, but you'll have to locate these on your own.

Digging a tree hole

Some of the research on tree planting suggests using methods you might not imagine. Did you know it is better to backfill your planting hole with the native soil, instead of bringing in topsoil? Research has indicated that tree roots will establish better if the soil they are growing into is the same. In some cases however, you are forced to dispose of heavy clay or rocks and use better soil for your backfill.

Digging the hole for a tree

Having good drainage is probably the most important factor of all --- tree roots need to breathe and won't tolerate soggy soil conditions that can suffocate roots. Some species of trees will tolerate wet conditions better than others. 

Hole depth: Don't excavate any deeper than the root ball. B&B trees need a solid footing to sit on. Loose soil under the ball will allow soil to settle later, causing the tree to become tilted as it sinks. 
Hole width:
Planting holes should be twice as wide as the root ball if feasible. When planting in poorly drained heavy clay, excavate a narrow ditch out of the lowest hole edge. Fill that ditch with loose soil that will allow water drainage. If the surrounding ground isn't sloped, plant the tree with the root ball elevated one-third of its height above the existing soil, and slope-up the backfill around the elevated root ball.

Soil backfill and transplanted tree pruning

As mentioned above, recent university research overturned some old concepts about transplanting trees. Two of the most notable concepts deal with pruning and soil backfill:

Backfill with topsoil?
University research indicates that trees will establish better if planting holes are backfilled with the native soil. Improving the backfill (using peat moss, topsoil, etc) may cause roots to stay in the planting hole, due to differences in the types of soil.

Branch pruning?
Early recommendations called for thinning a tree after transplanting to compensate for the loss of roots during transplanting. More recent studies indicate you should only remove crossing branches or damaged limbs. That being said, many nurserymen still believe in thinning a newly transplanted tree to balance the 'root to shoot' ratio.

Stake the tree?

Rules for tree staking: Trees over 6-feet tall should be staked for the first growing season. In windy situations you may need to stake shorter trees as well, with the principle being that a tree ends up straight once it roots into the ground. Recommendations also call for staking a tree so it can move slightly, the theory being it will develop a stronger root system with some movement in the wind. Protect the tree bark from wires and ties with short sections of old garden hose, which work well.

guy wires on a newly planted tree

Staking a tree

Another method uses 3 short stakes spaced evenly around the tree with wires running up to the first heavy branches

staked tree

Tree trunk wrap

Bark on a young tree should be protected with tree wrap, or a plastic spiral wrap, during its first year of growth. Place these wraps around the trunk of the tree, between the first set of branches and the ground.

! ! !  VERY IMPORTANT  ! ! !

Don't choke your new tree!  When placing any sort of bindings around a tree trunk, it's very important to check them from time to time to ensure they aren't choking the tree trunk as its trunk diameter expands! 

Tree support wires left on too long

We've seen many cases where these wires, plastic ropes, and synthetic wraps have caused the death of a tree. These situations most often occur in commercial landscapes where no one is paying any attention to tree maintenance after the initial planting work.

Step by step instructions (and photos) for planting a tree


Tree Preservation

Saving money on trees

When is the best time to transplant trees?


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