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How to plant a tree


1st Jan 2015 Home & Garden

How to plant a tree

Perhaps you are marking a significant occasion or simply filling a space your garden, either way planting a tree is an important event. Follow our expert advice to get this just right.


A gardener’s advice

1. The ideal planting time for deciduous trees is mid-autumn to early spring, providing the ground is neither waterlogged nor frozen. Broad-leaved evergreens and conifers are best planted earlier in the autumn or later in spring, when the soil is warm and moist. Keep roots moist to prevent foliage from shedding.

2. Trees ordered from a nursery will probably arrive bare rooted, with their roots either contained in a ball of soil wrapped in hessian, or in a wire basket. If you pick the tree up from the nursery, it may already be growing in a container. In that case it can be planted at any time except when the soil is frozen. Where summers are hot, avoid planting during periods of extreme heat.

3. In the case of some soils, inadequate drainage may result in poor growth of newly planted trees; therefore, ensuring good drainage is a prime consideration. The first step is proper selection of the planting site. A spot that is swampy or where water tends to collect after a rainfall is not a good place to plant most trees.

4. For the average young tree, the planting hole should be about 1 meter across and 45 centimetres deep—large enough to give the roots room to spread in all directions.

5. If you are planting in grass, mark out a circle and remove the turf. Break it up, and save it to incorporate with the soil you put around the roots. Begin digging from the centre of the circle, saving the topsoil as you go. When you see the soil becoming more yellowish or lighter coloured, it means you have reached the less organic subsoil. Keep digging, but put this in a separate pile.

6. When the hole is dug, fill it with water to test drainage. 

7. Sometimes a layer of impermeable soil will be fairly thin, and you can break through by thrusting your garden fork deeply into the bottom of the hole. If so, break up the base of the hole and proceed. If not, you might be well advised to pick another site.

8. All trees should be staked during their first 2 or 3 years. Stout wooden stakes treated with wood preservative are obtainable from most garden centres and nurseries. They should be long enough to hold the trunk upright but allow the crown and upper trunk to flex in the wind. With a bare-rooted tree, use a single stake driven in before planting; if the roots are incased in a ball of soil, drive in 2 stakes after planting, one on either side of the root ball.

9. Make starting holes for the sharpened stakes, insert them, and hammer them in with a sledge hammer.

10. Place a layer of rubble in the bottom of the hole you have dug to increase aeration. This is of value only if the hole already drains; it will not solve the problem of poor drainage.

11. Add soil and compost. Mix the subsoil you have taken out with an equal amount of topsoil, and use to form a thin layer in the hole. Tread firmly, fill with water, and let drain before positioning your tree in the hole.