How to Plant a Tree

Proper Tree Planting & Site Selection

Planting a Tree – The Friends of Trees Way

Friends of Trees makes planting a tree easy. Our trained Crew Leaders will show you how to transport & plant many kinds of trees at any of our planting events. But what if you’re planting a tree on your own? Below are a few tips for choosing where to plant your tree, and how to plant various kinds of tree planting stock. Watch this video for a tutorial on planting Balled & Burlap trees.

Planting a Balled & Burlapped Tree

  • Carefully remove any wire basket, and unwrap the tree’s burlap, leaving it underneath the tree. (You will use the unwrapped burlap to lift and move the tree.)
  • Gently remove extra soil from around the top of the root ball until you find the root flare of the highest major root. Protect the root ball from falling apart during this process.
  • Dig the planting hole the same depth as the root ball but 2-3 times the width.
  • Score the sides of the hole.
  • Gently lift the tree using the burlap and lower it into the middle of the hole.  The root flare—highest major root—should be level with the soil surface.
  • Rock the tree gently to one side while tucking the burlap beneath the tree. Rock the tree gently to the opposite side, enabling you to pull out the burlap from the bottom of the hole. Support the root ball to keep it intact throughout the process.
  • Stabilize and straighten the tree with backfill, being careful not to crack or damage the root ball.  Double check to ensure the highest major root is even with the soil surface.
  • Add the rest of the soil back into the hole, gently pressing down as you go to avoid air pockets, but not so hard as to heavily compact the soil.
  • After planting, water the tree thoroughly to settle the soil and remove air pockets.

Planting a Containerized Tree

  • Massage the container to loosen the root ball from the pot.
  • Massage the roots and loosen up the root ball soil.
  • If any roots are circling, lay the root ball on its side and prune the root at the point where it begins to circle. You may need to use a shovel for larger circling roots and shave down the side of the root ball.
  • Gently remove extra soil from around the top of the root ball until you find the root flare of the highest major root.
  • Gently lift  the tree by the root ball with a partner and lower it into the middle of the hole.  The root flare—highest major root—should be level  with the soil surface.

As with all trees…

  • Stabilize and straighten the tree with back fill
  • After planting, water the tree thoroughly.
  • If you have mulch, spread it around the base of the tree, keeping it 2-4” away from the trunk.

Choosing a Planting Location

Determining where to plant your tree

Planting the right tree in the right place is essential if you want to maximize the benefits of trees, such as reduced utility bills, and avoid future interference with foundations, sidewalks, driveways, and fences. If you’re planting a street tree with Friends of Trees, we’ll have your planting strip inspected, and locations will be marked with white paint on the curb or street. Underground and overhead utilities, street signage and lighting, driveways and other infrustructure will all be taken into account.

If you’re planting a tree in your yard, we won’t be able to inspect your private property. Use the following guidelines to choose the best planting location in your yard.

Think About Size

It’s important to think about the future size of trees at maturity, rather than their size at planting. In narrow, open spaces, plant tall, columnar trees. In wide areas with overhead utility wires, plant smaller, rounder trees. If space is available, it’s most beneficial to plant large trees, such as Northwest natives, to maximize benefits such as energy savings, overall tree canopy, and wildlife habitat.

Maximize the Benefits of Your Tree

To provide effective shading of your home, trees should be planted within 30 feet of the home. Plant at least two feet from property lines and five feet from driveways. To maximize summer shade, plant on the west side of the house. If you want to plant for warmth in winter, consider planting a windbreak, such as a row of conifers. Remember that roots, branches, and buildings don’t mix.

Site vs. Species

It’s important to pick your site first and species second. For instance, if you have ample space, it doesn’t make sense to plant a small, ornamental tree. Likewise, if you have a narrow space with overhead utilities present, it doesn’t make sense to plant a large conifer.

Environmental Factors

When selecting your yard tree, it’s a good idea to think about factors such as soil, water, and sunlight requirements. Friends of Trees’ website, local nurseries and arborists, books, and online resources are great sources for specific tree and site-related information.