Tree Planting and Care 101: Tree Planting Guidelines

Proper planting is critical to your tree’s survival.  Follow these suggestions and use the following checklist.


  • Shovel, pointy tipped.
  • Work gloves
  • 5-gallon watering can or hose
  • Shredded bark mulch (wood chips)
  • Large tarp to hold soil
  • Heavy duty wire clippers
  • Hammer or mallet
  • Staking and strapping (optional)

Preparing a site

If possible, prepare the site before you bring in the tree. Keep the root ball well watered and keep the tree in a shaded place until you are ready to plant. It is imperative to expose the trunk flare on each balled and burlaped tree before the planting site is dug so that the depth of the planting site can be properly measured. The trunk flare is the point where roots begin to branch from the trunk. (The top of the root ball is not always the trunk flare).

Follow these guidelines to prepare your site

  • Remove burlap from the immediate trunk area of tree.
  • Pull back excess soil around the trunk of tree to locate trunk flare.
  • Measure the height from the base of the trunk flare to the bottom of the root ball.
  • Dig to the depth of the trunk flare. 
  • Trunk flare and top of root ball should be at grade.
  • Dig the space at least 3 times the diameter of root ball.
  • Break up the compacted soil. Sides of the planting space should not be packed. Leave bottom of the space firm.
  • Do not amend the soil unless planting in building rubble, poor, or severely disturbed soils.

Planting Instructions

  • If the tree is container grown, cut and remove the container.  Alternatively, place the pot on its side, tap it gently but firmly all the way around, and the root-ball should loosen.
  • Prune dead or crushed roots and straighten or cut circling roots, making clean cuts. If the problem is severe, return the tree to the nursery and get a new one.
  • Lift the tree into planting space by the root ball, not the trunk.
  • Balance the tree upright in the center of the planting space.
  • For trees in wire baskets, cut and remove 2/3 of the basket from the top.
  • Cut away strings and burlap or plastic, exposing the root ball. Do not bunch up burlap in the hole.  Do not remove soil from the root ball.
  • Never plant too deep. The trunk flare and top of root ball should be at grade (the trunk flare may be hidden within the root ball.) The trunk must always be in open air, and the roots must be underground. If you dug the hole too deep, lift the tree back out of the hole by the root-ball, not the trunk, add dirt, tamp down well, then replace the tree. If too shallow, dig a little deeper.
  • Begin refilling the hole with soil, watering as you fill to firmly set tree. Gently tamp. Fill the soil up to the tree base just to where roots begin to branch from the trunk.
  • Prune only dead or injured branches. Do not paint wounds.
  • Remove tree wrap, tape or string on the trunk. Trunks should be wrapped only to protect them in transit to the planting site.
  • Stake and brace larger trees at planting time. Stakes should support tree but also allow it to move or sway.
  • Use a wide, belt-like strapping to attach to two sturdy stakes.
  • Mulch lightly and evenly with 3" of composted material or wood chips at least to the diameter of the crown of the tree. Leave a 3" circle of bare soil around the trunk. Deep layers of mulch especially piled against the trunk can be harmful.
  • Do not plant flowers within the rootball.
  • Do not fertilize at planting time.


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

Additional resources for tree planting can be found on the Arbor Day Foundation’s website.