Dos and Don’ts of Planting Trees and Shrubs

As we welcome fall, it is also the best time of year for homeowners’ to plan new trees and shrubs. We’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts for planting trees and shrubs to help as a guide for success:

Plant Choice

Do: The first thing to do when deciding to plant something is to choose the right plant for the right location. Understand the light exposer and water requirements of the site before choosing the plant. Plants all have different requirements for sun light, water and grow to different sizes and shapes. Understand how much room the plant will have to grow in and find the mature plant height and width and make sure there is room for the plant to grow to mature size. Group plants together with similar requirements to make caring for them easier. A plant in the right place will be more successful in the long run.

Don’t: Make the plant fit because of the way it looks now. Even dwarf varieties need room to grow and some plants grow faster than others. Plants you may see in someone else’s landscape may not be the right fit in yours.

Check the Roots

Do: Inspect the root ball if you can before you buy a plant. Plastic potted plants allow for easy inspection of the roots before planting which you can’t do with balled and burlap. Healthy roots will be white or very light-colored, dark roots may be unhealthy. The diameter of the root ball should be about 10-12 times the diameter of the trunk for trees.

Don’t: Buy plants that are pot bound or have masses of roots that have been circling the inner edge of the pot. If significant girdling roots found consider not purchasing the plant.

Digging the Hole

Do: Find the trunk flare and measure the height of the root ball before digging the hole. Only dig hole as deep as the root ball. Ideally dig the hole up to 2 times wider than the root ball to make it easier for developing roots to move into the native soil.

Don’t: Dig the hole deeper than necessary. This may result in settling deeper than expected over time.

Wire Cages & Burlap

Do: Remove wire cages and burlap as much as possible. If your plant has a wire cage, remove the bottom most ring of wire but leave the rest in tact to maneuver the ball into the hole. Once the plant is in the hole and at the right depth, cut the remaining wire on along one side and remove the rest of wire basket. Cut and remove as much of the burlap as you can after the plant is in the hole.

Don’t: Leave wire baskets and burlap in the planting hole. Burlap may not breakdown as quickly as you may think and can inhibit root growth and development and can also create a moisture barrier to the surrounding soil.

Girdling or Circling Roots

Do: If you discover girdling or circling roots after the plant is in the hole, use pruners to cut and remove larger girdling roots or Make vertical slices along the side of the root ball to cut small circling roots and to encourage roots to begin radiating outward and break up hardened soil.

Don’t: if girdling roots are not cut or removed the roots will continue to grow in a circle and eventually choke the plant.

Planting Depth

Do: Final depth of a tree should be at the trunk flare or the point where the trunk begins to transition to roots, the roots should begin just below the surface. Backfill with the excavated soil, don’t amend the soil that you put back into the hole.

Don’t: Do not plant too deep because it will be harder for the roots to get the air and water they need. The soil in contact with the trunk can also cause rot and decay.

Adding Mulch

Do: Mulch new plantings, 2-3 inches of bark mulch will help to maintain soil moisture and reduce weed competition moderate temperature and helps keep maintenance equipment away from trunk. By applying a thicker ring of mulch around the outer edge of the planting hole can create a well that will keep water from moving horizontally and help direct water straight down the root ball where all the roots are at this time. Over time as the plant grows and roots grow out from the original root ball watering can be broadened.

Don’t: Do not over mulch or pile mulch on the trunk of the tree. This will hold moisture against the bark and lead to disease and rot.


Do: Water new plants deeply and infrequently except when first planted. The University of Minnesota has a great guide to watering new trees:

  • 1-2 weeks after planting, water daily.
  • 3-12 weeks after planting, water every 2 to 3 days.
  • After 12 weeks, water weekly until roots are established.

How much to water newly planted trees based on size of trunk:

Caliper of tree trunk Root establishment time Gallons of water at each irrigation
1 inch 1.5 years 1-1.5 gallons
2 inches 3 years 2-3 gallons
3 inches 4.5 years 3-4.5 gallons
4 inches 6 years 4-6 gallons
5 inches 7.5 years 5-7.5 gallons
6 inches 9 years 6-9 gallons


Don’t: Do not water too often, the soil should be allowed to dry in between watering to allow adequate air in the soil and reduce diseases. Watering frequently and shallow will encourage roots to grow near the surface where they will be prone to drying more quickly. If water is puddling for long amounts of time soil may be compacted or waterlogged.

We hope you find these dos and dont’s of planting new trees and shrubs helpful. As always, please reach out to us or your local nursery for any additional questions you might have. Be sure to consider protecting your new investment with a professional tree and shrub program which typically includes deep root fertilizations, insect and disease protection and more!

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