How to Buy, Plant and Care for Trees

The ultimate expert guide to buying, planting, and caring for trees.

Whether it’s a massive oak in the front yard or a dwarf pine in a pot on the patio, trees play a prominent role in any landscape.

They provide shade and function as anchors for surrounding plants.

They can also be strong focal points, with striking flowers, foliage, and bark. They can hide a less-than-pleasant view, dampen outside noise, and provide a haven for wildlife. Even the smallest garden benefits from having at least one tree.

Tree Types, Sizes & Colors

Choosing a tree begins with deciding where the tree will go and what sun and water conditions it will encounter.

In addition, you will also want to consider how fast growing you want the tree to be, if you want it to have greenery year-round, flowers, or fall color, or be fruit-bearing.

Types of Trees

Trees are divided into two broad categories:

Deciduous trees are those that lose their leaves in winter. They’re a great choice if you want shade in summer and warmth in winter.

Evergreen trees are, as the term implies, green year-round. Evergreen trees can be further divided into two subcategories:

Broad-leafed evergreens have thick leaves, such as those found on holly (Ilex) and Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

Conifers, such as pines, firs, and spruces, have needlelike leaves.

Fruit trees are yet another option. These combine flowers and oftentimes colorful foliage with the advantage of a crop. Look for varieties that are suited to your climate, and be sure to check for any pollination requirements. For more about growing fruit trees, please see How to Grow Fruit Trees.

© Tyler Shaw – Unsplash

Citrus trees flourish in warm southern climates.

Tree Sizes

Taking a tree’s ultimate size into consideration before purchasing it is essential. If you have a small space, a bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) will overwhelm the rest of the garden. On the other hand, if you have plenty of room, small trees may be lost in the background.

Be sure to consider the tree’s width. Trees such as Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) take up very little horizontal space even though they grow quite tall. Others, such as the atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), can reach 75 feet tall and 100 feet wide.

If your only available space is a patio or very small garden, you can find trees that will fit, such as the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) or flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

Check the size range for the exact species or variety you’re buying; it can vary widely even within a single genus.

Tree Color

Trees ablaze with red and yellow leaves are what most people think of when they think of colorful trees. And it’s true that especially trees like maples and oaks provide an amazing show of fall color year after year.

© David113 – Unsplash

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum Oshio-beni) displays vibrant fall color

But you can also find trees that display colorful flowers throughout the year, as well as fruits and berries. And trees such as river birch (Betula nigra) are probably best known for their interestingly colored bark.

How Trees Are Sold

You can find deciduous trees sold as bare-root stock during their dormant season (late fall through early spring) or year-round balled-and-burlapped or as container plants.

Evergreens and conifers can be found in balled-and-burlapped form from early fall through spring or in containers throughout the year.

Look for plants with strong trunks and branches. Bare-root plants should have fresh-looking roots.

Balled-and-burlapped plants should have root balls that are completely covered and that feel firm and moist. Take care when handling a balled-and-burlapped tree. Support the root system when you’re moving the tree, and don’t hold it by the trunk. These plants can be very heavy, so you may want to enlist some help moving them.

Container plants should not have the roots growing in a mat out of the bottom of the container.

Evergreens and conifers should have healthy foliage and be free of insects.

How to Plant A Tree

When planting a tree, start with a hole that is twice the width of the root ball and slightly shallower than the root system. Taper the sides of the hole slightly outward at the bottom, and then dig deeper around the bottom edges of the hole to allow room for the roots to grow downward and to prevent the soil from settling.

Christina Richards / .com

First dig a hole that is twice the root ball’s size.

Shape the soil in the center of the hole into a rounded cone to serve as a base for the plant. Save the soil you removed to fill in around the new plant.

Trees generally do better if planted in the same soil as the surrounding garden bed rather than in amended soil. The exception is balled-and-burlapped trees. They are usually grown in heavy soil. If your garden soil is light, add amendments to the excavated soil.

Planting a Bare-Root Tree

Soak a bare-root tree in water for four hours before planting.

1) Situate the tree so the top of the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil.

2) Spread the roots over the cone and downward.

3) Hold the plant in place and then start filling in the hole with the soil you removed. As you fill in the hole, make sure the soil is firmly packed.

4) When the soil is about 4 inches from the top of the hole, add water to settle it in place. If the plant starts to settle as well, add more soil underneath the root ball.

5) Finish filling in with soil, and then water again. Don’t overwater; the soil should be moist but not soggy.

Planting a Balled-and-Burlapped Tree

For a balled-and-burlapped tree, the top of the root ball should rest about 2 inches above the soil line. If the covering is burlap, untie the top and pull the burlap about halfway down the root ball. If the covering is synthetic, remove it completely.

1) Fill the hole with soil, firming it as you go, until it is about 4 inches from the top.

2) Moisten the soil, and add more soil beneath the plant if it has settled.

3) Continue filling the hole and firming the soil; when you’re finished, moisten the soil until it is thoroughly wet but not soaking.

Planting a Container Tree

If planting from a container, gently remove the plant. You may need to tap on the bottom of the container to loosen the root ball.

1) Place the plant on the cone so the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil.

2) Spread the roots out around the cone and fill in the hole with soil, firming it as you go.

3) Once you’ve finished filling in the hole, water until the soil is moist but not soggy.

Staking a Tree

Most trees don’t require staking, but if a tree has a weak trunk, is very top heavy, or is exposed to a constant wind, staking may be necessary.

1) Place two stakes in the ground on either side of the root ball.

2) Tie the tree to the stakes as low as possible but at least a foot above the ground.

3) If you’re adding support because the tree trunk is weak, determine where to place the ties by holding the trunk in place with one hand and running your other hand up the trunk beginning at soil level.

4) Note the spot where the tree remains straight, and tie the tree to the stakes about 6 inches above that spot.

5) Choose ties made from a soft, wide material. Loop each tie around the trunk and then tie it to a stake. Keep the ties loose; there should be about 2 inches of slack. Remove the stakes and ties after the first year.

Watering & Fertilizing New Trees

Regular watering is essential for all newly planted trees, even those that are drought-tolerant. To encourage tree roots to extend deep into the soil, make a watering basin around the tree by forming one berm outside the tree’s drip line, or canopy, and another berm about 6 inches from the crown of the trunk. Other watering options include using soaker hoses, deep root soakers, or drip irrigation.

Water newly planted trees when the soil is dry to 2 inches deep. Once a tree is established, water only as needed. An exception is if trees are exposed and a deep freeze is expected; water them thoroughly to help protect their roots.

If a tree is regularly exposed to drying winds, hot sun, freezing temperatures, or animal damage, wrap the trunk with burlap or trunk wrap to protect it. Remove the wrapping after the first year.

Fertilize most newly planted trees regularly for the first few years, then fertilize only if the growth is weak or the tree is not thriving. Fruit trees generally need regular feeding. Spring and summer are the best times to fertilize; don’t fertilize a month before frost is expected. Apply fertilizer to the edge of the tree’s canopy, and water thoroughly afterwards.

Shade Trees: Rate of Growth, Planting, Trimming and More


Healthy shade trees require little maintenance other than occasional pruning and feeding. And of course, there’s the raking. A mature tree can produce a lot of leaves. Make sure you’re up to the challenge. Also keep in mind how you’ll be mowing around the tree. Unless you enjoy whacking your head every time you pass underneath it on a riding mower, look for a tree without low-hanging branches.

Growing Zone

Native plants are always a good bet, and trees are no exception. Although they’re not all shade trees, check the list of official United States state trees. Whatever you decide, get a tree that’s suitable for your USDA growing zone.

Rate of Growth

Faster-growing trees usually have a shorter life span under some conditions, as rapid growth doesn’t produce a strong system of roots and branches. On the other hand, some trees survive for hundreds of years. They won’t begin to reach mature heights for some time and quite frankly, you may not be around to see it. Planting one of these varieties is definitely a gift for future generations.


Trees will mature into distinctive shapes. Make sure the tree fits the overall design of your landscape.


All of your thought and research when selecting a tree is worthless if it doesn’t grow. Make sure that you plant the tree correctly, and get it off to a good start.

Pruning and Trimming

Lower branches help support the tree and trunk, and provide balance. Cut sparingly or consult an arborist before pruning anything other than dead wood. Don’t top trees; if your tree has overgrown its bounds, there are alternatives to giving it a flattop. Crown reduction is a technique that allows the tree mass to be reduced without changing its natural shape or endangering its health. Again, consult an arborist about these techniques.

Trimming Around Trunks

Avoid string trimmers unless you have a very steady hand. Even small wounds to the outer bark allow insects and disease inside. When bark is stripped from around the trunk (called girdling), the tree eventually will die.

Grass Underneath

Sometimes trimming underneath a large shade tree is a nonissue since very often no grass will grow there anyway. Maintaining turfgrass under shade trees can be a challenge. When grass and trees compete for water, nutrients and sunlight, usually the trees win. If you insist on grass, there are shade-tolerant grass varieties available. The alternative is to make the area under the tree a turf-free area. Mulch 2 to 4 inches deep (more than 6 inches is too deep; water and air won’t get through). Keep the mulch 1 to 2 inches away from the trunk.

Feeding and Watering

Healthy trees generally don’t require much fertilizing. If you notice reduced growth, give them a feeding in autumn or early spring. Provide water during drought, but only if you’re able to water the tree deeply. Remember that a tree’s roots are normally in the top 6 to 12 inches of soil, and any water or chemical (fertilizer or pesticide) will be absorbed by the tree.

A Guide to Buying Healthy Trees and Shrubs

For many people, selecting a healthy tree or shrub is a game of chance. Sometimes you win, occasionally you lose. By following the suggestions listed below, the odds of selecting a healthy tree or shrub can be shifted in your favor.

Look for signs of good health. Avoid plants that appear wilted or have off-color foliage. These are signs that care has not been optimal or something may be wrong with the root system. Desirable trees possess good foliage color and full-sized leaves. Leaves should be pliable yet firm. Select trees with a well developed leader and straight trunk. Branches should be well spaced and evenly distributed on all sides of the leader.

When looking at trees in early spring, most deciduous trees will be dormant. Scraping the bark of a live branch with a fingernail should reveal green tissue beneath. If not, the branch may be dead. Check other branches to determine the status of the tree. Live branches are quite flexible for most plant species. A dead branch will snap and break. Buds, present since last summer, should be swollen and plump. The tree’s previous growth can be checked by observing the bud scars on the branches. Very little growth between scars (less than 4 inches) is a sign of a tree in trouble. Check the trunk for mechanical injury, environmental injury such as sunscald, or animal damage. Trees with obvious disease and/or insect problems should be avoided as well.

The top of the tree isn’t the only area that needs checking prior to purchase. The root system is important as well. Many trees are sold in containers or balled and burlapped (B B). Avoid trees which appear too large for their container. This may be an indication that the tree is pot bound. Pot bound trees and shrubs are not healthy plants. Pot bound trees often develop circling roots which, left uncorrected, can eventually girdle or choke the tree. At planting, cut the root system vertically at regular intervals at the outer edge of the soil ball and pull the root system apart. This will encourage the formation of new roots which will spread into the surrounding soil. Often plants will be shifted to a larger container. This helps if the roots were properly cut prior to repotting. Repotted plants that are not root pruned may appear healthy but really are not. Check for soils of different consistencies or remnants of a fiber pot as indicators of trees that have been shifted up.

To check for well-rooted plants, grasp the trunk of the tree near the base and try to move the tree in the container. Well-rooted plants should not create a hole in the soil when the stem is shaken. The container and the tree should move as one. Containerized plants can be removed (properly) from the container and the root system examined without harming the tree. Healthy roots are firm and usually lighter in color than the surrounding soil. There should be no offensive odor or mushiness. Ask a nursery employee for permission and/or assistance before pulling the plant from its container. Carry trees by their container or root ball rather than by their trunks to avoid damaging their root systems. B B trees are checked much the same way as a containerized tree. The ball should not have cracks in the soil or large clumps of loose soil. If it does, these are indications of improper handling which could mean trouble later on.

Buy nursery stock from reliable nurseries which are knowledgeable about the plants they sell, offer plant guarantees, and practice proper handling and care of their nursery stock. Avoid being a home for wayward plants even though the price is right. Be a wise consumer and research the plant before purchasing to find out its adaptability to your location and cultural requirements. Quiz the nursery staff and see if they can answer your questions sufficiently, remembering that they are in the business of selling.

This article originally appeared in the April 14, 1993 issue, pp. , 1993 issue, pp. 47-48.

Buy Big Mature Trees

When clients visit Barcham looking for mature trees it’s a job to know just how big they want to go! Mighty ancient oak or four metre seven year old? Our medium trees start at 3 metres and in most cases are nearer 4 metres. This is usually seen as mature enough for their needs, but we go all the way up to super instant sized trees which are nearer 7 metres tall and in pots that require machinery to plant and get off the lorry as they can weigh up to 2.5 tonnes each!

In the nursery trade we classify the larger trees, with a girth of over 20-25cm, as semi mature and these certainly create a day one impact. Many people say that a smaller tree is more likely to establish and overtake a bigger tree and this is true if planted as a bare root or root balled tree where over half of the root system is left remaining in the nursery field. The trees are so injured that the bigger they are the more tender loving care they need. However, this is not true of our trees! This is why we containerize our trees in our patented Light Pots to establish an unwounded root system before they reach our clients gardens. Using this method, we are so confident of the vibrancy of our trees that whatever size you start with they will all grow away at the same rate. What is more, we guarantee our trees so long as they are planted in accordance with our planting instructions that are demonstrated on our planting video,

The trouble with shopping for trees on the internet is that you are shown photos of mature specimen trees but what turns up rarely lives up to expectation. I always remember a friend of mine ordering an oak for a Christening present and it came through the post under two feet tall! She had paid a lot for it as well so was very disappointed! This prompted me to take the bold step to video our stock and put online the exact tree that would be delivered to our customer’s door: Buy the tree You See!

This takes all the guesswork out of buying mature trees as there is a person in the video for scale as well as a 12 metre ruler. You know exactly what you are getting with Barcham.

Buy The Tree You See from Barcham Trees

Uniquely from Barcham, you can buy large trees online by viewing a video of the actual tree that you will be supplied with direct from our tree nursery. You can see the height, shape, quality and health of the tree that will be delivered to you on purchase. Out of our stock of 125,000 large trees we video 5,000 trees in this way so rest assured if you can’t find a variety or as many as you would like we have plenty to fall back on!



Our experienced team of arboriculturalists are here to offer you advice to make the best choice of trees for your garden. Barcham Trees are at the forefront for innovation and advice within the Arboricultural Sector and a major cause for tree decline is related to the depth that they are planted. Mike Glover, Managing Director, explains:

In recent winters, wet & windy weather has made it all too easy to see which trees have been planted too deep. Last November I saw a Lime gently rocking in the soil, its trunk leaving an ever increasing hollow in the soil line, signifying that its root system is buried way below the correct level. It is widely recognised that planting trees too deep is a major cause for premature decline.

Tree roots need oxygen and water blended in measure so inevitably grow within the top metre of the soil. We tell clients buying a Barcham Tree to plant the container an inch proud of the soil line to allow it to settle back over time into the disturbance caused by digging the hole. Better to plant too proud than too deep!

Root balled trees present a real challenge. Cultivation and root balling in the field heave soil up the stem so that they sit several inches too deep to start with. Nurseries who containerise root balled trees heap compost on top of them and then landscapers use root anchors to stabilize them at planting. I reckon most root balled trees are planted at least 5 inches too deep and this is the chief reason for failure further on down the line.

Planting pit design is another area of concern. I speak to landscape architects who specify a standard 1.2 metre square pit, but why make it so deep? The tree will only settle into the disturbed soil, especially if dragged down by the force of a root anchor, with the roots ending up in a compacted soil profile with no oxygen to fuel them. Width rather than depth is what a tree needs.

We are not alone in this. Professor Gary Watson, researching this problem in the USA, has coined the term ‘Root Shank’ for the tubular stem of the tree below ground before the root system starts. Imagine a sumptuous red wine glass with a delicate stem, flat base and wide cup. This is a good way to picture a tree and how it stands firm. If its base isn’t wide it blows over easily and if it is planted too far up the stem it rocks about in the soil.

When we lift our trees from the field and containerize them, the top of the first root is no more than a centimetre under the compost level and for customers who specify, we then dab a paint line at the point the root flare leaves the compost. For the customer, if they can’t see this paint line after planting, they know it is planted too deep! We call this ‘The Barcham Line’ and hopefully it will become an invaluable aid to countering the annoying and self-destructing practice of deep planting.

Please take the time to review our Planting Video and advice about planting Barcham Trees here.


Watering is a key ingredient to maximize rapid establishment after planting. As soon as the tree starts to initiate leaves after planting, it’s time to make sure that it gets all the water it needs. Slow release water is what’s required or else the soil doesn’t have time to grip it on the way through. Imagine applying a litre of water onto a hanging basket and seeing most of this run through to the patio several feet below. If you applied this water as ice, not a drop would run through the basket as the compost would have time to grip the water as the ice slowly melts. For a newly planted tree, water outside the root zone is useless to the tree as it can’t be accessed and this is why we recommend our watering bags to give your trees the perfect start. They ward off grass competition around the tree whilst delivering slow release water to the root zone. By watering in this way, every drop you put into the bag counts in favour of the tree and the bags can be reused for years on other plants and trees you plant! Fill your watering bag once a week from April through to October and your tree will romp away!


If you follow our advice and plant in the way we demonstrate we GUARANTEE the trees we supply. Like everything, it’s easy if you know how and we are here to offer the advice!

What size shade tree to buy? is a great question no one ever asks. It seems everybody just assumes you should buy the biggest you can afford. That’s what nursery staff will tell you right?

In a previous post, I wrote about three defects you MUST check for when buying trees. That covered looking for root related issues at the nursery. Today, I would like to talk about deciding on what size shade tree to buy.

A tree is a long term investment. You should start with a high quality plant. Trees eight to ten feet tall are often the best buy as far as price.

If the tree is difficult to establish, you can start with smaller plants. The irony is that if you plant larger trees, they will usually take a lot longer to recover from transplant stress and start growing again.

Here are my four limber pines at planting, note the big one cost $150 more and was a lot harder to move and plant. Yes, they are the same tree even though the foliage color on these looked different in this picture.

Trust me I know, I spent $240 on an six foot balled and burlaped Vanderwolf’s Limber pine, and $90 each on three 3 feet tall container plants nine ago.

Do you know which ones are taller now?

The ones that were three feet tall when I planted them. You know what else. The smaller trees were a heck of a lot easier to move and plant! It was even FUN planting them!

Here they are nine years later. The biggest one now is NOT the biggest one at planting which was the one on the left side of this photo. Note one of the ones in the back got moved. (The swing set/eyesore’s days are numbered girls!)

So why are the trees that were smaller then, larger now?

Transplant Shock

Newly planted trees are stressed due to the large amount of roots that are chopped off when they are dug at the nursery. This transplant shock leads to susceptibility to drought, diseases and insects. Transplant shock lasts until the balance between the roots and the rest of the tree are reestablished.

Trees that die often do it during this root-establishment period. A new tree’s odds of making it are improved if it receives extra watering attention during this time, which can be as much as three years.

What size shade tree to buy to minimize transplant shock

If you want to know what size shade tree to buy to minimize transplant shock, here are some guidelines.

Instead of planting the biggest tree you can afford, go ahead and choose younger and smaller trees to plant over larger ones. Although you can have nearly full-sized trees planted in your yard, smaller trees transplant easier and grow quicker than larger trees. They also cost a lot less and if you choose you can probably plant them yourself. Nurseries LOVE it when I say this! Guess which ones they make the most money off of!

It’s best to start with a tree that has a 1- to 1.5 inch trunk diameter if you want it to start growing right away. Although trees up to 2.5 inch diameter can also be good as long as their root balls are sized large enough. Very small seedlings like the kind they give away at weddings or sell for $5 at Wal-Mart are too small. They take too long to grow to be useful.

But I want shade now!

All trees require time to reach their prime, but fast growers take the least. They however are often not the longest lived trees and often have brittle wood that can break easily when they get larger.

One way to get around this fact is to plant both fast and slower growing trees. The fast growers can provide shade in a hurry while the slower growing longer lived trees mature. Then you can always cut the fast growers down. Yes, you can cut a tree down!

Look to slower-growing trees for long, trouble-free lives and enough strength to withstand wind and ice storms. Think oak here.

You can plant fast-growing trees with slower growing ones to get fast shade. When the slower growing trees have gotten large enough you can cut out the weaker ones down. You will get the best of both world’s quick shade and long lasting strong wooded trees. You will however have the expense/hassle of removing large trees. You also might not have the room in your lot to do this.

Autumn Blaze maple. This photo was taken nine years ago.

What if you are impatient but don’t want to have to remove your fast growing trees

If you want a fast growing LARGE shade tree, but also want it to last, take a look at these trees as some possibilities:

  • Autumn Blaze Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’), Zones 4–7
  • Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’), Zones 4–9
  • Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Zones 5–9
  • Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Zones 5–10
  • Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), Zones 4–9
  • Northern red oak (Quercus rubra), Zones 5–9
  • Green Vase zelkova (Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’), Zones 5–8

Note these are all BIG trees, If you are not sure which size of shade to to buy in terms of how big it will eventually grow, take a look at this post on that topic.

The same Autumn Blaze maple this summer taken from a lot farther away.

SFF may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Autumn is an optimal time to plant trees. As mundane as it may seem compared to solar panels and hybrid cars, planting trees is one of THE most powerful and affordable ways to make a personal difference for the environment. And it’s a fun and educational activity to do with kids, too. Here’s why…

Why We Should Plant More Trees

As we learned in third grade biology, trees are essential to life. They create the very air we breathe and filter air pollution.

What you may not know is that trees also build soil and help soak up stormwater before it can create a flood, and they offer energy-saving shade that reduces global warming and creates habitat for thousands of different species. Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas.

Most importantly, trees sequester carbon, helping to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which cools the earth. In fact, a mature canopy tree absorbs enough carbon and releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings!

The carbon storage capacity of forests is approximately three times as large as the pool of carbon in the atmosphere. If forests are changed, reduced, or eliminated, the captured carbon goes into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2).

Despite their importance to life as we know it, humans have cut down half of all the trees on the planet so far. Every year we cut down over 50,000 square miles of forest worldwide for paper, agriculture, building materials and fuel. That’s an area the size of the state of Alabama! Every year!

The carbon release from deforestation accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the four to five billion tons of carbon accumulating every year in the atmosphere from human activities.

Much of this wouldn’t be necessary if we reduced, reused and recycled more, cultivated hemp for fuel and fiber, and used sustainable and recycled materials in all our buildings. But until this changes, we need to put the trees back any way we can, as fast as we can!

Have a Tree Planted for You

There are many local, national and international organizations that plant trees, and because planting trees costs relatively little, donating to these organizations can make a big difference.

You can also have trees planted specifically to offset your personal carbon emissions from airplane or car travel. These organizations can help you out:

  • American Forests Global ReLeaf
  • The International Tree Foundation
  • Rainforest Rescue – Restores rainforest species in Australia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia
  • Clear Sky Climate Solutions – Provides carbon offsets through reforestation projects
  • Terrapass – Provides carbon offsets for flying, driving, etc.
  • CarbonFund – Provides a variety of carbon offset projects to choose from.
  • – Tree planting for offsetting carbon emissions

Also check with your local environmental or parks department for tree planting organizations and events in your community.

Plant a Tree to Improve Your Property

While supporting tree planting organizations is a great way to be eco-friendly, you can also make a difference in your community by planting trees on your own property.

A properly-planted, mature shade tree on the south or west side of your house or business can save you up to 25% on your summer air conditioning bills and increase your property value by up to 20% with its beauty. That same tree will also help soak up stormwater in the neighborhood, and contribute habitat for local wildlife. If you plant a fruit or nut tree, you get food as an added bonus!

You really can’t go wrong by planting trees!

How to Properly Plant a Tree

September through November is the ideal time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials (in the Northern hemisphere) because it allows the roots to become established before the ground freezes and winter sets in. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall are also better equipped to deal with heat, pests and drought the following season.

Another great reason to plant your trees and shrubs in the fall is so you can select them by the fall colors they produce.

Cooler, wetter weather is the perfect time for tree planting, and seasonal rains can often provide all the water the tree needs to establish. However, if the weather is dry you should make sure your shade trees get about 15-20 gallons of water a week, until they go dormant for winter.

Fruit trees and ornamental trees and shrubs can receive a little less. It is very easy to make sure your tree gets the water it needs automatically using a TreeGator device.

Avoid planting broad leaved evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas, boxwoods and hollies in the fall, because they are not likely to survive winter cold and wind so soon after planting. However, virtually all other temperate shade trees, ornamental/fruit trees, and perennials are perfect for planting in the fall, before the soil gets too cold too dig.

The Arbor Day Foundation has a great video series on how to properly plant a tree. Learn how to plant a tree “

Essential Tree Planting Tips

click to enlarge

Here are a few key tips for proper tree planting that you may not know:

1. A healthy tree’s root system is just as wide as its canopy, so be sure to plant your tree in a location far enough from your house to accommodate both the mature breadth of the tree branches and the mature spread of the tree roots.

Especially consider where your water and sewer pipes are in your yard in relation to your tree’s future root spread. It would be awfully expensive and tragic to have to cut down a 30-foot tall, mature shade tree because its roots were breaking up your plumbing.

2. Make sure your tree is planted at the exact same depth as it was planted in the pot or burlap sack it came in. Planting a tree too deep is a leading cause of tree death because it smothers the roots and introduces moisture and fungus to the trunk.

Planting a tree too shallow will expose too much of the top of the root system to the elements. If you have to move the tree to place more soil beneath it or take some away to get the tree to sit at the right depth during planting, it is worth the work. A tree can last for generations if you plant it right.

3. Never pile mulch around the trunk of your tree! I know people do this all the time everywhere you go, but it is a very harmful practice for the tree and shortens its lifespan greatly. While you should always mulch your trees, piling up the mulch around the trunk like a volcano introduces wood-rotting bacteria and fungus from the mulch directly to the living, growing bark of the tree. The moisture build-up and fungus will often girdle or kill the tree before it can reach maturity.

The proper way to place mulch around a tree is in a “doughnut” shape that doesn’t allow the rotting mulch to come into contact with the living bark. (See image above.)

4. Don’t use stakes unless absolutely necessary. If the tree is grown and dug properly at the nursery, staking for support will be unnecessary. Trees establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting, but instead are allowed to adapt to local conditions. However, protective staking may be necessary where lawn mower damage, vandalism, or windy conditions are concerns.

This fall, consider planting a tree or two on your property, or help with a tree planting in your community. And this holiday season, consider a generous donation to a non-profit that plants trees or does reforestation work.

We all benefit greatly from living among more trees. A future with fewer trees is a future less secure for humans.

This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, check out the book by clicking below.

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