B. Planning Tree Planting

This planning tree planting and shrub planting section is a helpful guide to planting trees.

There are many things in landscaping that are overlooked that can cause you grief down the road.

We love to share these things with you as it is information that you will always use as a do-it-yourself landscaper.

We covered a lot of things to consider in the previous section, so let's look at some more designing and planning tips.


Understanding a few basic principles of landscape design will benefit you for years to come. You will always develop your own ideas and sense of style, but try to keep these guidelines in mind.

We also have a few Articles on designing on our site if you are interested in a little more in depth information.

Repeating patterns and shapes when planting stock gives a nice rhythm and flow to your yard. Interval planting of trees is very common down driveways, or for privacy from neighbors.

Informal designs are more often flowing curves, while straighter lines are associated with formal yard designs.

Many people buy trees without considering the width and height of the tree. Keeping things in proportion with your yard and house will give your yard balance.

Medium and small size shade trees will look much better with a single story or ranch style home. Larger and taller trees will go better with two story houses.

Think about how you are going to connect your project with other elements in your yard like, grass, buildings, patios, gardens and walkways etc. You may want to consider alternative low maintenance ground covers of decorative rocks or mulch.

Many ground covers under the canopy of a tree will never flourish. Remember that shade will affect the growth of the grass or ground cover. The tree blocks sunlight as well as taking valuable water and nutrients from the soil.

Check out our module on Edging and Decorative Rock if you want to learn more about landscape fabric, edging and decorative rock installation tips.

Plan ahead for lighting, irrigation, or any other features you may be adding down the road if you feel excavation may interfere with your work.

Practical and functional are the two most important words to remember when landscaping. Don't make anything awkward or difficult to maintain in your yard. For example:

Edging, garden beds or tree circle beds, should have curves that can be easily followed by a lawn mower. Don't leave little strips of grass, or other difficult areas to mow or maintain.


Planning for tree planting materials and equipment is also important. You may need to take down fences, so be careful of overhead power lines.

An average root ball of a 12 ft tree will weight roughly 300 to 400 lbs and cannot be handled easily without the use of equipment. Poor handling, or excessive dragging can hurt the root system and your chances of transplant shock recovery.

If you are bringing in heavy equipment it may groove and damage your lawn. Repairing the damage can cost you time or money, so you may want to think about alternative methods. (Planting a smaller tree that you can handle without equipment.)

If you have in-ground irrigation, make sure you call your service company to map out where your lines are. (These can easily be cut with a shovel or damaged with a bobcat.) They may also want to make changes to the system to benefit your new trees or shrubs. They may want to install drip irrigation for your newly planted stock.

Keep your eye on the weather forecasts as well. You don't want to do any work with heavy rain in the forecast. If you are using any heavy equipment it will make an absolute mess in the rain.

Selecting a Tree

Trees can be purchased in many different sizes so you need to think about what your needs are.

When buying trees, you can have an instant canopy without waiting the years of growth towards maturity. This will require professional help for delivery and planting. They will have the proper equipment to get the job done.

On the negative side, this will cost you more for the installation and the years of care that the nursery took care of the tree.

On the positive side, most trees have a warranty if the nursery does the install. (So long as it doesn't die due to neglect.)

Remember what I said earlier about equipment possibly damaging or grooving your lawn? This is an issue, so be aware of it.

If you are planting large trees yourself make sure you can handle the tree, and the weight of the root ball. It depends on the variety of the tree, but most people can handle 8 ft trees with a couple of strong hands. I have seen landscape crews handle trees considerably larger, but it makes me cringe at how the are often abused.

Nursery grown stock has a better success rate than trees or shrubs from the wild. This is due to the fact that they are prepared for eventual planting at the nursery.

Here is a video with great tips on how to plant a tree.

Types of Stock

Most trees can be purchased four different ways:

Balled and burlapped - Soil and roots wrapped in burlap. These are relatively easy to establish having a generous amount of proper soil attached to the root ball. Most of the roots have been wrapped. They are usually held together with string, twine or sometimes a wire cage (basket).

Containerized - These are grown from the start with all the roots compacted in the container with the soil. Easy to transplant by removing the container.

Bare root - No soil. Exactly what is says. They are cheaper to purchase, but higher maintenance to care for and store until planting time. These are usually fruit trees and have a limited planting season.

Potted stock - This is basically bare root purchased by the nurseries and potted in a container.

Excessively large stock - can also be purchased, but needs to be installed with a tree spade. Talk to your nursery about this method. It is not for the do-it-yourselfer.

Although it is nice to have larger trees to start with, smaller trees will thrive much faster having less transplanting shock than larger trees.

It could take a large tree a few years to recover and thrive, where a smaller tree could re-establish and “catch up” to the larger tree quickly. It's also important to know that faster growing trees usually have shorter life expectancies.

Rather than give you lists of trees/shrubs for specific soil conditions and purposes, I recommend a trip to your nursery to familiarize yourself with the native stock to your region.

If you have more than one nursery, make sure you shop around to see what different varieties they have to offer you. Make sure you are able to answer questions about your soil conditions, and anything else we have covered from above.

These are a few of the questions that you may want to ask them.

  • Is the stock suitable for alkaline soils?
  • Is the stock suitable for acidic soils?
  • What are the moisture requirements?
  • Is the stock drought tolerant?
  • What will attract birds/other wildlife?
  • Which species have attractive flowers, foliage or bark?
  • Which species have sticky sap/berries/fruits?
  • Which stock is tolerant to heavy winds?
  • Which stock is tolerant to heavy sun or shade?

Sometimes trees are not purchased from a nursery with a knowledgeable staff. In this case, read the tag to see what that stock is suitable for. If you are still not sure then you should write down the information on the tag. You should do a bit of internet research before you buy it. (Better safe than sorry.)

A quick note on purchasing and transporting stock before you take it home. Take the time to inspect your purchases. Make sure they are healthy with no visible damage to the trunk or branches.

Try to pick trees/shrubs with healthy looking foliage that isn't drooping or wilted. Make sure the root ball is damp if it's going to be a long trip home.

Talk to your nursery about the best way to secure a tree to your mode of transport. (Pickup trucks are good.) Make sure it is not going to be damaged on the trip from rubbing, bending or broken branches.

Use a tarp to protect foliage from damaging and drying winds. Remember that a tree gets it food through the leaves as well the roots, so protect them. This is done through transferring sunlight into food by photosynthesis. You paid good money for it so treat it right.

When should you plant?

These are general rules that may or may not apply to your particular stock. It is always best to check the individual requirements of the variety that you have.

The best time to plant is during dormancy. After the leaves drop in the fall, or before the buds break early in the spring. This allows time for root development before new growth. Plants that have been cared for in nurseries can be planted anytime during the growing season.

When to transplant?

The best time to transplant will vary depending on the species and climate. Some species may survive transplanting at any time, but the success rate diminishes when it is done outside of dormancy periods.

Most species should be done in the spring, after the frost is out of the ground and before the buds break. In the fall it should be done after the leaves drop, and well before the first frost.

Give the roots time to absorb water for development before the ground freezes.

Try to transplant evergreens in late summer or early fall, giving the roots more time before the first frost.

Woody plants transplanted in the spring with the shoot growth at its peak, are prone to the most transplant injury.

If you live in a tropical climate where trees grow year round (I envy you), you are lucky. You can transplant most things year round.

Important note: With thousands of different types of stock out there to plant or transplant, check with your local nursery as to what you are transplanting. They should be able to give you specific information related to the plant, as well as knowing the climate in your area.

Now that you have a plan, let's head to the shed and get your tree planting tools.


Table of Contents: Transplanting Trees

Introduction: Transplanting Trees

A. Tree Planting

B. Planning Tree Planting

C. Tree Planting Tools

D. Digging and Planting Trees

E. Caring for Newly Planted Trees


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