Planting a Tree the Right Way

It's important to know how big a tree will get when mature. Paul Beck (left), vice president of the Pleasant Hills Arboretum, works with Greg Smith, who is the president of the organization, to measure the girth of a tree in the arboretum. The pair then used a formula to determine the tree was over 100 years old.

There’s an old saying that goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is today.”

Fall is the best time to plant trees as the temperatures and day length are conducive to root growth instead of top growth. They can be planted in the spring, but the tree will have to add leaves, maybe bloom and try to establish good roots.

* First, check that there’s enough room for the tree to reach maturity.

* Be sure the site has the right soil and light conditions for the variety.

* Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the container or root ball. Pure clay is not going to work, so look for average garden soil at least. Don’t add compost; it’s best to use the native soil if possible.

* Test the planting hole by filling with water; as long as it drains in a reasonable time, it’s fine.

* It’s critical the tree is not planted any deeper than it was in the pot or ground in the case of a balled and burlapped tree. The root flare must not be buried. Use a shovel handle to determine how deep the planting hole should be.

* Place the tree in the hole and back fill with the native soil.

* Water the plant and be sure it gets enough moisture if rain is scarce until the ground freezes.

* Use a layer of mulch around the tree, and be sure it does not touch the bark. The mulch should look like a doughnut, not a volcano.


Doug Oster is editor of Everybody Gardens, a website operated by 535Media, LLC. Reach him at (412) 965-3278 or See other stories, videos, blogs, tips and more at