Planting a new tree in your yard might sound like a bit of a chore, but it’s actually kind of exciting. Think about it: this little sapling could grow into a mighty tree that lives for over a century. Watching it get taller and fuller with each passing year is oddly rewarding, and the environmental benefits are pretty significant. So, grab your gardening gloves and trowel, because now is as good a time as ever to plant a new tree.
Technically, any time the ground isn’t totally frozen is a viable time for tree planting, but there are certain weather conditions that are a little more favorable than others. Scorching summer heat isn’t exactly ideal for planting a tree, for example, but if you’re able to hose it down with cold water regularly, you’ll still be in the clear.
Young trees generally prefer the slightly chillier temperatures of spring and autumn. If you plant your tree before the end of June or after the end of August, it’ll be smooth sailing from then on, with little risk of heat stress for your yard’s newest resident.
Many people are apprehensive to plant in the autumn, out of fear that the harsh winter will harm the new sapling. But don’t worry, because the back-to-school season is actually the perfect time for tree planting.
When you pick up a young tree from the garden center, try your best to get it in the ground as soon as you can. If you can’t plant it immediately, keep it in the shade away from direct sunlight, and make sure you keep the root ball moistened.
Depending on what kind of tree you’ve chosen, you’ll need to plant it in a spot that will provide it with what it needs. For example, birch trees love lots of water, so it’s not the best idea to plant one on top of a steep hill where water will run right off. Do a quick online search before you go ahead with planting, just to check for any special considerations and ensure you’re picking the best new home for your tree. Our Plant Finder tool is an excellent resource for discovering the needs of many plants we carry.
When you dig a hole for the tree, you want to make sure that the hole is twice as wide as the diameter of the root ball and just as deep as it is high. So, if you’ve got a tree with a root ball that’s 15 inches across, dig a hole that’s 30 inches wide. Once you pop the tree in there, back fill the hole with a good mixture of 25% compost and 75% top soil containing peat moss. We recommend combining in a transplant fertilizer to help your new tree establish roots keep that tree well-fed.
If you live in a new development, it’s a good idea to check how deep the soil is in your yard. Simply jabbing your trowel into the lawn will give you a good idea of whether you’ve got several inches of good soil, or just an inch or two layered on top of hard clay. In this area you’ll likely find some clay – this furthers the importance of the recommended 25% compost and 75% topsoil backfill recipe with added nutrients. If you’re stuck with heavy clay, you aren’t out of luck.
Just dig your hole three times larger than the root ball instead of the usual two, and consider digging down deeper, then refilling it with good soil, especially if drainage isn’t great. This will help your tree’s roots to settle in and anchor down.
When you plant your tree, feel free to get generous with watering. Just monitor the drainage in case your soil quality is a little wonky. Very clay-heavy soil isn’t the best for drainage, so you can water it a bit less in that case. Alternately, if your soil is overly sandy and drains quickly, water it even more.
An important step to take after tree planting is applying a thick layer of mulch around the base. Seriously, your tree will thank you. Not only does mulch help to conserve water and keep your tree hydrated, but it also shields the roots from the hot summer sun and cold winter lows.
In the forest, trees are accustomed to having their leaves collect around their base to protect their roots, but since we rake up all the leaves in our yard, we need to apply mulch instead. Some simple tree bark mulch should do just fine— just make sure it isn’t piled up around the base of the tree. Spread it evenly so it doesn’t accumulate bacteria and start to rot.
Once your tree is all set, kick back and watch it begin to flourish. It’s a gradual process, but the change in size over the years will be pretty impressive. Take a photo of the new tree right after you plant it and keep it as a reference of how far it’s come. Trees are full of history, and it’s pretty cool to think about how long it’s going to stick around for, and everything it’s going to see.