• Larkin

Tree Planting Guide

Prepared by: Larkin Tree and Shrub



Carefully consider the site characteristics:

Wet or Dry

Intermittent flooding

Sunny or Shady

Soil is Loose or Compacted

Soil is Clay or Loam

Site is subject to Wind or relatively protected

Do a Percolation test to determine how well the site drains.

Soil testing can give you information about soil fertility and Ph.

Seriously consider the size of the space and choose a tree who’s Mature (full grown) height is appropriate for the intended spot.

Once you have done this basic assessment, choose a tree type that will meet the determined criteria. http://woodyplants.cals.cornell.edu/plant/search


Best times to plant trees are spring and fall. If you choose bare root, timing is critical. Ball and burlap trees allow for a greater range, but can be heavy (200-300lbs) due to the weight of the ball.


DIG the HOLE on the day of or day before planting. Proper planting holes are shallow but wide.

To determine the proper depth: measure the distance from the flare to the bottom of the ball. In order to visualize the FLARE, you will likely need to remove the burlap from around the trunk, as well as removing soil until the FLARE is exposed. This step is CRITICAL. Trees are NOT tomatoes, planting too deep causes multiple problems and may lead to tree failure.

LOCATE the FLARE PRIOR to digging the hole! Soil placed into the hole to correct the depth will settle under the pressure of the ball and the tree will ultimately be too deep.

The width of the hole should be 2x the width of the ball, this allows for root development.


Prior to digging, place a tarp or piece of plywood next to the hole in order to collect the soil to use for backfilling the hole. Using this native soil to backfill is KEY to promoting root development into the surrounding soil. DO NOT add fertilizer to this soil or to the hole, DO NOT add gravel to the bottom of the hole, DO NOT amend the existing native soil with more than 25% percent compost.

Once the hole is dug,

PLACE the ball into the hole.


REMOVE ALL burlap to the base of the ball

SNIP wire basket at the base of the ball and REMOVE

MASSAGE root ball to loosen soil

WATER the root ball

ADD 1/3 backfill

WATER again

ADD ½ the remaining backfill, Water

ADD remaining backfill, water again

USE shovel handle or pole to ensure no large air pockets remain, watering also helps to settle the soil around the ball.

At this point the soil in the hole should be evenly moist, NOT sopping wet.

COVER the exposed soil with a layer of mulch 2-3 inches thick.

KEEP mulch AWAY from the trunk at least a few inches.

IF site is sufficiently WINDY to disrupt the position of the ball, then the tree should be LOOSLEY staked for a period of NO MORE than 1 year.

STAKES and STRAPPING should allow the tree to SWAY, it is important to root development.

Trees that are tightly staked often do not develop proper resistance wood, and the trunk may become weakened and increase the potential of failure. Straps made of soft webbing are ideal, DO NOT use wire strap around the tree, EVEN if it is inside a hose. A young tree has thin bark, tight strapping or wires can cause SIGNIFICANT wounding.

The mulch ring helps to maintain proper moisture needed for establishment as well as providing a zone of protection from mowers and string trimmers.

Fencing might be required to prevent damage from deer. Monitor the tree during winter months as voles may damage the tree by chewing. You may wrap hardware cloth or wire mesh around the base of young trees. ALWAYS remove the plastic tube that often comes with the tree, they harbor moisture and pests.


Trees require 2 to 3yrs to properly establish.

Regular WATERING is CRITICAL to proper establishment of the tree.

The BEST way to water is a slow hose in the mulched area. The goal is to saturate the root zone 1-2 times a week for the first year while the tree is in leaf. RAIN water is NOT sufficient to establish a tree. The soil needs to be moistened to allow water to percolate down to the root zone. This is called deep watering and encourages roots to grow down. Frequent shallow watering results in poor establishment.


DO NOT prune your tree until after it is established, at LEAST 1 yr. The only exception is dead and broken branches.

After your tree is established your tree should be pruned at intervals for structure and health. Tree training significantly affects the long term health and safety of your tree.


CALL 811 before you DIG

HANDLE Trees with CARE

TREES make their own FOOD, LEAVES manufacture food and are the ONLY food source. FERTILIZER is NOT FOOD. Most soils provide all the basic minerals needed for proper tree growth. Fertilizers can cause increased presence of pests, rapid weak growth as well as fungal issues and root damage.

Compost enriches soil and promotes growth of beneficial bacteria that directly benefit tree health. Compost can be added safely as a yearly top dressing, and ultimately contributes to overall soil health.

Some excellent references:

Search this database by plant name, ornamental and/or site criteria:


For more in depth information:



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