How to Plant a Tree || Step by Step Guide

Planting trees is not hard as long as you know what you are doing. There are some important things, to keep in mind when planting trees, like location, nutrition, and preparing the roots of the tree for later watering.

I had quite some trouble in the past with planting trees but that is mostly because I made it so much harder for than it actually is.

That’s why I wrote this article, where I tell you everything you need to know so that you can easily plant your own trees in your garden!

So, let´s get started with the Tools, that you will need to plant a tree!

Here is What You Need for Planting a Tree

  • A spade
  • A short hose (Optional)
  • A watering can or something similar to water the tree
  • Rabbit/deer guards
  • Good boots
  • Mycorrhizal fungus powder (optional)
  • Tree stakes and ties
  • Some strong twine
  • A cane about four feet high

Step 1: Dig a Hole

The modern way is to dig a square hole rather than a round one, though a round hole does no harm.

A square hole is thought to facilitate the spread of roots.

The hole should be deep enough for the tree to be buried up to the point where the trunk meets the roots. Spread the roots evenly in the hole. The hole should be wide enough for the roots to spread out.

Step 2: Nutritions for the Roots

At this point, two optional actions can be done.

You can place the small length of rubber or plastic hose in the ground with its top protruding to provide a passage that will take water to the roots.

You can also spread the mycorrhizal fungi powder. This is a soil-dwelling fungus that works symbiotically with the tree roots to get nutrients to the tree.

Step 3: Fill the Hole

Then you backfill the hole until the ground is level and the soil is level with the point where roots meet the trunk.

At this point, there is a danger of air pockets forming around the roots, which prevent nourishment from reaching the roots, so with the heel of your strong boots treading the soil down firmly to squeeze out the air pockets.

Step 4: Place the Rabbit Guard

Place your rabbit guard around the tree and fasten it to a cane.

For rabbits, a simple roll of spiral plastic will suffice, but for deer, you need to play safe by getting a metal cylindrical cage or a fence made of a wooden stake.

Failure to do this in areas where such predators on trees are present will allow the deer and rabbits to ring bark your tree. This is when they eat the young bark in a circle around the trunk, which kills the tree by destroying the phloem that takes nutrients up the tree.

As phloem lies just below the bark it is susceptible to deer and rabbit attack.

If you are using a deer guard and are in a windy area there is space inside the cage for a tree stake, which is a short post driven into the ground and fastened with a strap to the trunk.

Use a strap rather than twine as twine will cut into the tree as it grows and can cut through the bark, ring barking it.

Alternative method.

This method does not involve digging, but involves clearing and hoeing a patch of ground large enough for the tree’s roots to be spread,

Then it is covered with soil or general-purpose compost until the roots are covered. In all other ways, the rest of the procedure is the same as the method given above.

What Kind of Soil is Best For the Plant

To begin you need to know about the soil’s pH rating, which is a scale of acidity-alkalinity graded from fully acid [number 1] to fully alkaline [15] You can read more about soil pH here if you want to.

If you want to know how you can test the soil pH then you can check out this article. You won´t even need a commercial pH tester to do so.

Most trees prefer somewhere in the middle, about 6.5 on the scale.

Fruit trees generally prefer a PH of 6.5, but they can tolerate anything from 6-7.

Field maple [Acer campestris ] likes a pH of 7, which means a slightly limy soil, but red maple, [Acer rubrum ] popular in the USA and Canada, tolerates a wide range of soil conditions.

You can test your soil by purchasing a pH kit or a meter from a garden center. You can get the soil around the tree to the pH you want by adding sulfur if you want to acidify it or lime if you want a more alkaline soil.

It is best to modify the pH of the whole area around the tree if you have problems in this area.

You also need to ensure that the soil is not waterlogged. Many trees will not survive in waterlogged, boggy soil. Good drainage is necessary.

The soil type matters because a soil that is too sandy will not provide nutrients or sufficient water for the tree, as sandy soil drains water and plant nutrients too easily and it will not anchor the tree roots well, making the tree prone to topple, especially in strong winds.

Clay soil is capable of holding the roots well but can be hard to dig and roots can struggle to penetrate the harder clays. The ideal soil is a loam, which is a mixture of sand, clay, silt and organic matter in various proportions.

Your soil should contain a good amount of humus, a substance produced by decaying organic matter. Soils rich in humus are dark. You can augment your humus level by adding organic matter, such as compost.

But the presence of soil nutrients is important, as the sad case of wood planted in Connemara during the Irish potato famine to provide hungry folk with work shows.

The well-meaning priest who ran the project saw his wood wither, and it was only found out later that the boggy soil was deficient in vital minerals. You probably will not meet this situation, but to provide minerals dress the soil with either seaweed meal or rock dust, which is ground volcanic rock.

What Variants Are There

Some trees differ in their requirements.

Willow, aspen, and alder like wet soil and are good for draining damp ground.

Eucalyptus will suck water from the soil.

Plantations of eucalyptus have been known to drain small swamps.

Citrus trees like a pH of 5.5-6.5 and a pH of 7 or upwards will stunt them.

You cannot plant citrus in the same soil as willow or alder, as citrus thrives in dry, though not desert, soils like the Mediterranean.

Palm trees like dry, sandy soils and detest clay, as they like to spread their roots widely, but clay’s density inhibits this spread. But they need watering regularly for the first two years after planting. Ensure that the top eighteen inches are kept moist.

Conifers do not like soils that are either too compacted or too light and excessively draining. They prefer sandy loam, which is a loam with a higher proportion of sand in it.

If you have a soil that is less than ideal for your conifers, dig it over and add organic matter, such as manure, compost or leaf mold. You can also apply fertilizer in fall before the ground hardens.

Take the Climate in Account

You need to ensure that trees that you plant suit the climate of where you live.

Most palms need a warm climate, for example, though the small chusan palm from China can tolerate cold conditions, though the degree of cold found in northern states of the USA in winter can be too much for it.

Will a Tree Grow in a Container.

Metal cart with blooming flowers by ficus trees in pots

It depends on how big it is going to grow.

Clearly, some trees start in containers in tree nurseries but have to be planted out. You cannot keep a tree in a container that will outgrow.

You sometimes need to change the container for a larger one to prevent the tree’s becoming root-bound. This is when the roots spread until they meet the sides of the container and begin to circle round it, and when this happens they grow no wider.

Fruit trees are sometimes grown on dwarfing rootstocks.

Any commercially-grown fruit tree is two trees grafted together. The bottom is the rootstock, which determines the height of the tree [ dwarfing, semi-dwarfing, standard ] and the top is the variety of fruit grown.

For the size that you want, choose according to a rootstock; for the fruit choose according to variety. If you want fruit such as apples, pears, quinces, and cherries to grow in a pot choose one with a dwarfing rootstock.

You can also get dwarf conifers in pots.

What Kind of Container Do You need for Planting a Tree?

Containers come in various sizes and in different materials.

You need to choose one that is large enough to contain your tree when you plant it and up to the time that it has grown large enough to be considered fully grown or potted on into a larger container.

It should have drainage holes in the base. These are especially important if your container-grown tree is being kept outdoors.

Rainstorms can flood a container with inadequate drainage, a problem that can drown the plant. It is often wise to place containers on two or three bricks to allow for easier drainage from the bottom.

Containers can be wood, metal plastic or terracotta. Any of these materials will suffice, but terracotta is heavy and breaks easily.

So If you want to grow a tree in a container terracotta is probably a bad choice.

Will It Grow Indoors

Some trees, such as weeping fig [Ficus benjamina] will grow in indoor conditions but site your containers well.

Sticking a container in a shady corner of a room is not likely to help a tree that needs light. Banana trees, for example, need light and if in containers should be kept outdoors or in a warm conservatory, and in areas prone to frost need to be brought indoors as winter approaches to somewhere warm and frost-free.

Many dwarf tropical trees will survive overwinter in a heated conservatory, especially if there is sufficient light.

Choosing Your Tree.

You can purchase trees in the following ways:

  • Bare Rooted
  • Container

Some cheaper trees are sold in stores with little or no moist protection around their roots.

Sometimes the stores keep the roots moist, but it is a lottery. It is far better to purchase from a garden center or tree nursery, which will supply the tree with moist padding around the root often made of sphagnum moss These are the kinds that I purchase for my garden. But it is important not to delay planting.

When you get your bare-rooted tree give its roots a good soaking with water by standing the tree in a bucket for about half an hour.

Young, bare root fruit trees are sold as one-year-old whips, so-called because at that stage they are long, thin and flexible. Plant them as detailed in the previous paragraph.

Timing Your Tree Planting

If you purchase container [pot ] grown trees and want to transplant them into the ground you can do so any time that the ground is not too sodden or frozen. This is because they will have already developed their root system.

However, other young trees should be planted during the dormant period, which means that as a rule you plant trees in months with an R in their name, September to April.

September is a mite too early in a temperate climate and April is a bit late, though the planting is still in time. But in North America there are northern areas where the ground is frozen for most of the winter months, so later planting in March to April is the rule.

How to Fertilize the Plant

Trees are best fertilized by mulch, which is organic material spread on the soil.

Avoid making the mistake of “volcano mulching.” This is when the organic matter is spread right up to the trunk and makes a slight rise up against it. This state of affairs can provide an access route for insect predators to nibble the bark, thus damaging the trunk.

One good mulch for deciduous trees, those which shed leaves in winter, is leaves. Fallen leaves are nature’s way of recycling nutrients. There are two ways of doing this.

simply spread leaves on the soil and let them rot down. Soak them to make them heavier and lesss likely to blow away
Let them rot down in a leaf mold bin, a process that takes a year, and spread the resulting leaf mold around your tree.

Leaf mold bins can be a mesh container, but plastic bags work just as well. Fill the bag with leaves, make a depression in the top to retain rainwater, leave for a year and you have your leaf mold.

Besides leaf mold, you can use compost or well-rotted cattle or horse manure. Just spread it lightly around the area that you wish to fertilize, again avoiding heaping it up against the tree.

Poultry manure is very strong and so is best applied lightly in pelleted form. Poultry manure is useful for fertilizing container-grown trees, as it can be handled in smaller doses than natural manure.

Worm compost and its pungent-smelling liquid are a good general addition to the garden but do not apply them in concentrated form to the tree roots, they are too strong. Rock dust and/or seaweed meal can be general additions to the garden for trace elements and general improvement in soil minerals.

One way in which I enhance the soil near my trees is to have my compost heaps in my small orchard. This way the soil is enriched as the heap rots down.

Of course, you can apply fertilizer. Fertilizer should be applied in spring and should have a balanced NPK rating.

N is nitrogen, for leaf growth; p is phosphorus for general plant health; k is potassium for fruit.

It follows that fruit trees need potassium. Look for a general-purpose fertilizer, which is easily available from garden centers.

Some trees have their special fertilizers.

Citrus fertilizer is available from garden centers and citrus tree retailers. Evergreens prefer acidic soil and so take fertilizer with an acidic character, ericceous fertilizer. They also take ericaceous compost, which is compost for plants like acid soils. I successfully use this kind of compost and fertilizer on my blueberries, which on my 6.5 pH soil I grow in containers.

The roots of a tree extend as far as its branches, so if you want to apply fertilizer or soil augmenters such as compost, see how far the branches spread and apply within the area under them.

Watering the Tree

There is nothing better than a good shower because it supplies lots of water and because rainwater is better for plants than tap water is.

But trees soak up a huge amount of water daily, so in dry spells keep your soil moist. Container-grown plants are very prone to drying out, so keep a watchful eye on them and never let the soil in the containers dry out.

What Pests to Look For

Birds are not usually pests on trees, though once a heron landed on my plum tree and was so weighty that it snapped a branch. Birds can be encouraged as they eat pests, of which there are large numbers.

In fact, the best strategy for dealing with pests is to encourage predators, such as ladybugs, which gobble up aphids and whiteflies in abundance.

Try to avoid using insecticides, as pests are becoming resistant to them and they end up by making matters worse. They also kill useful insects

The best way to tackle pests is to look for signs of damage to leaves, bark, and fruit. Aphids [greenfly ] are notorious, but they can be blown off leaves by high-pressure water jets or attacked with horticultural soft soap sprays.

The larvae of certain moths, such as winter moth, attack fruit trees as the female, which is wingless, climb fruit trees to lay her eggs. Growers use grease bands, which they wrap around the tree to render her climb impossible. Moths can be resisted by encouraging birds.

Sawflies, which attack leaves cause much damage. Their larvae overwinter in cells that they build in the earth after they migrate downwards the trees in winter. If you have a sawfly issue, the way to deal with it is to dig over the ground near your trees in winter to destroy the cells and expose the larvae to predators.

Squirrels often eat nuts, stripping nut trees bare of fruit. Encourage predators such as foxes.and cats.

But fungal diseases can attack fruit, such as plums. You can combat them with a spray of sulfur powder. However, some fungal and bacterial diseases are incurable. Silver leaf is a fungal infection that attacks plums and damsons.

When it attacked my damson tree I had no choice but to fell it and dispose of all the cuttings in the council green waste system. Similarly, bacterial canker involves felling the tree. It manifests itself as brown rot. Unless you fell these diseased trees they will infect others.


This is the easiest bit. The fruit is ready when it comes off the tree easily. To check if an apple is ready to hold it from underneath, lift and gently twist. If it is ready it will easily come off. The same rule applies to pears and quinces. Other fruits are ready if you do not have to tug them off the branch.

Windfall apples and pears can be harvested, but they cannot be stored and should be made into preserves, apple pie or juice as soon as possible. Some fruits, such as plums, tend to develop fungal infections if they are stored for more than a few days. Use them up quickly.

Many varieties of apple store well as long as they are not in physical contact with each other. There are special boxes to enable you to do this.


I enjoy all things outdoors and I love plants! I've never considered myself to be one with a green thumb, but it's my mission to learn, so I figured I would bring you along for the ride. :) Happy planting!

Recent Posts