How to plant a tree


You don't have to have a green thumb to plant trees. Garden stores are filled with lovely saplings and young trees you can plant yourself with a little knowledge and a little muscle. Here's gardening editor Kristin Schleiter showing you how to plant a tree.

How to plant a tree With a couple of tools and some help from Kristin Schleiter, planting a tree can be a simple way to add beauty to your landscape with helping the environment at the same time.
  1. Dig a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball of the tree and just as deep.
  2. Use the pitchfork to loosen the soil.
  3. Mix the compost in the hole and with the soil you will be back filling with.
  4. Remove the tree from the pot.
  5. Loosen the roots -especially roots that might be circling the base of the plant.
  6. Place the tree in the hole to check for depth.
  7. Holding the tree trunk straight, back fill underneath the root ball making sure there is good contact between the soil and root ball.
  8. Back fill the rest of the space with the soil/compost mix.
  9. With the soil, build a ring (about an inch tall) around the base of the tree to allow for water to drain straight down to the roots.
  10. After planting the tree water the soil thoroughly.


  • Use your legs when digging.
  • Make sure the soil line meets the base of the tree.
  • Make sure the tree trunk is straight in the ground.
  • When watering fill the ring around the base of the tree 3 times.
Transcript <!--StartFragment-->

Hi, I’m Kristin Schleiter with, and today I’m going to show you how to plant a small tree. The things you need are: a tree, some compost, a pitchfork (if your soil is compacted, like it is here), and a big shovel.

The first step is to dig the hole. You want to dig a hole about twice as wide as the root ball of the tree, and just as deep. And that’s the hardest part, and that’s the only part that takes the elbow grease. Since this is compacted soil, I’m going to use this pitchfork to sort of loosen it up, so that it’s easier digging. The soil’s pretty compacted here; there’s been some construction recently. So we’re going to loosen it up to make it easier digging. Just kind of work your way through, loosening, work. There we go. Now, that’s a lot better.

Now, I’m going to dig. When you’re digging, you want to make sure that you’re lifting with your legs, not your pack. We’re going to make this whole about twice as big as the root ball of this maple here, so that’s going to be about two feet across, and looks like about twelve inches deep. All right, that looks like it’s about deep enough.

The next step is, we’re going to add some compost to the soil. We’re adding compost for a few reasons. It’s going to add organic material to the soil, which will help it retain moisture. It’s going to put some nutrients in there so the tree will grow strong and healthy. So, here it is. You want to add compost, both to the hole and to the soil that you’re going to backfill with. This helps make sure that the tree is going to reach out into the wide hole, and its roots aren’t going to stay tight together.

Now we’re going to work that in with the pitchfork, and also in the bottom of the hole, mix it in. Now as I mentioned, you need to make sure that the hole is twice as wide as ball of the tree. And you can see that we’ve dug a nice, wide hole here.

The next step is to get the tree out of its pot. Sometimes if it’s really tight in there, you have to step on the pot. This one is coming out. You want to make sure that you loosen the roots. Special any, especially any roots that might have been circling around the base of the plant. There we go. Twist it as you go, making sure that you loosen it all the way around. Now we’re going to drop it into the hole to check for depth.

Two things that you have to make sure of when you’re planting a tree: one is that the level of soil is right at the flare of the trunk. The flare is the spot where the roots come gracefully out from the trunk. The other thing you need to make sure of is that the trunk of the tree is straight up and down from all directions. This one was potted quite crookedly, so it’s going to be a little tougher to make sure that it’s straight in the ground. I’m going to have to remove a little bit more of the soil on top of one side.

Now, making sure that I’m holding the trunk straight, I’m going to backfill. Underneath the root ball, on the shallow side, making sure that there’s good contact between soil and root ball.

Now it’s ready for backfill. If this hole were too much bigger, I’d probably do it with a shovel. Here we go. We’ve got that mostly backfilled.

Now the last step is to make a ring around the base of the tree to help direct any water straight down to the roots. Now when you build the ring, it doesn’t have to be too tall. It can be just an inch or so. Just want to make sure that it has a nice dish to it, so all the water will flow right in when you water the tree.

Now we’re going to water this tree in quite thoroughly. Sort of always need to water longer than you think you do. A good idea is to fill the ring three times. Although it looks like we’ve prepared the soil so well here, it’s draining right in, which is really terrific. Here we go.

And there you have it. How to plant a small tree. I’m Kristin Schleiter with

meet theexpert
  • Kristin Schleiter

    Kristin Schleiter Gardening Editor Kristin Schleiter is a horticulturist and member of numerous gardening associations. She received the CNLA’s Certified Nursery Professional accreditation. more about this expert »

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