Tree Planting and Care 101: Tree Placement Guidelines

Where you want to plant a tree and what you know about that site, drives all of the next steps.  Take stock of the following information.  You can also take this information to go by downloading and printing our Tree Placement Guidelines [PDF].

1. Where will you plant your tree?

  • Lawn
  • By a patio
  • Garden
  • Along a street
  • Park
  • Parking lot
  • Landfill
  • Playground
  • Schoolyard

2. Describe the site. Check off anything that describes your site.

  • Underground utilities (Before you dig, call the NYC One Call Center, a free service to mark underground utilities 1-800-272-4480)
  • Heavy traffic
  • Overhead utility wires
  • Winter salted roads
  • Walkway, driveway, or sidewalk
  • Sunny
  • Shady
  • Dry
  • Wet

3. Check soil conditions.  Use a pointy tipped shovel to see how loose the soil is.  You can also send a sample of soil to Agro-One Soils Laboratory.

  • Severely disturbed/building rubble
  • Shallow soil to bedrock
  • Sandy
  • Rocky
  • Clay
  • Silt/loam

Consider the following suggestions for fitting the tree to the site.

  • A tree's mature size and shape must be of the proper scale to fit the site and surrounding buildings.
  • Trees have roots. Roots spread beyond the branch area of the tree. Most roots are found in the top 18" of soil; most absorbing roots are found in the top 6" of soil.
  • Plant an appropriate sized tree under overhead wires.  Avoid planting over under-ground utilities. To find out more information about utilities in your neighborhood, call NYC One Call Center: 1-800-272-4480.
  • Do not plant trees near building foundations or walls.
  • If you plan to plant near the street or in a parking lot, know the snow removal plans.
  • Determine the necessary root growth space for the species you select. Think of clustering trees in a park setting or a parking lot to provide larger soil volumes for safe root growth. Grouping spaces as contiguous pits to provide shared soil volumes is recommended, rather than digging several individual pits. Groupings create their own small environments and may survive better.
  • Identify legal restrictions for planting for both public and private property.
  • To maximize the tree’s energy-savings and health benefits to the community, plant the largest size tree possible. But always think ahead to the mature height of the tree. Never plant too large of a tree in too small of a space.
  • Which way is south? The sun is always in the southern portion of the sky, so a deciduous tree planted on the south side of the house will shade the house in summer but allow the sun’s warmth to come through its bare branches in winter.
  • Understand that if you plant a large tree in full sun, it will eventually create shade. You can still have grass and a lovely garden in shade.

Source: State of New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, State Forester's Office, Division of Forests and Lands, and the US Forest Service: Planting Trees in Designed and Built Community Landscapes.