How to Plant and Grow a Healthy Tree

poor tree plantingWhy would anyone intentionally kill a new tree?

That’s the thought that crossed my mind when I saw this little tree while walking through my neighborhood.

Obviously, these folks wanted to grow a tree. They invested money in buying a tree, they spent time digging a planting hole and they even took time to stake the thing.

Too bad they didn’t do some research on the best ways to plant it. I don’t hold much hope for this tree that has soil piled high up against its trunk with its little trunk flare buried deep.

I wish these people knew the average life expectancy of a landscape tree is less than 10 years because of where and how it’s planted.

That’s certainly a sad statistic for a plant that does so much for us.

If you’re going to invest the time and money to add a tree to your landscape, be sure to spend the extra effort it deserves in planning, planting and maintaining it to ensure a long, healthy life.

Most people are surprised to learn that planting problems kill more trees than all insects and diseases combined. Usually trees are planted too deep. Sometimes they receive too much water. Many times they’re left to fend for themselves.

So, let’s get to the root of the matter about planting trees.

The key to planting and growing a healthy tree is to focus on how to encourage its roots to grow.

Roots aren’t just a tree’s anchor to the ground; they’re the tree’s lifeline. Roots need room to spread out and they need oxygen to survive. Without adequate rooting space, a tree’s growth will be limited. The roots zone on a tree is like a wide, flat saucer. They’re found in the top 12-18 inches of soil and spread out horizontally about 1 ½ to 2 ½ times the height of the tree.

So, it makes sense to do all you can to reduce transplant shock and encourage roots to grow.

Here are the top tips for planting a healthy tree:

  1. Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole that is at least three times the size of the root ball. The hole should be shallow (no deeper than the root ball) and wide. Remember that planting too deep slows root growth.
  2. Set the root ball on undisturbed soil 1-2 inches above the soil grade.
  3. Don’t shovel any backfill over the top of the root ball.
  4. Use backfill to cover only the rounded area of the root ball that tapers down to the original soil grade.
  5. Make sure the trunk flare is visible (the flare is the curved or larger part of the trunk where it leaves the ground).
  6. Water and mulch over the root ball.

After Planting

Be sure to provide enough water to ensure adequate root zone moisture for its first two years, especially during a prolonged dry spell—that includes winter, too.

Check soil moisture levels with a water meter at both the root ball and backfill soil.

Water trees slowly and deeply, to a depth of at least 12 inches. Saturate the soil around the tree’s dripline. The dripline is the outer edges of the tree’s branches. For a newly planted tree, applying about 2 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter twice a week; for established trees, use about 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter during each watering.

Avoid overwatering by making sure the soil doesn’t become water logged. This prevents roots from getting enough oxygen.

Do you have any other tips for planting and growing a healthy tree? Please share them here.


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My-oh-my, Jodi! Aren’t you a life saver! I’m so grateful that I’ve stumbled upon your article! I’ve been looking into planting some fruit trees in my backyard, so I’ll be sure to follow your tips on planting a healthy tree. Do you think there is anything I need to do differently (relative to a normal tree) with a fruit tree?

I’m glad to hear you found the tree planting information helpful. I’ve planted a few fruit trees, like peach and apricot, and I’ve followed those same recommendations without any problems.

Growing fruit is so much fun! Best of luck to you.


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