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How to Plant a Tree

Properly planning for, and caring for your trees will ensure a healthy tree that brings years of enjoyment and benefits. 

Plan

Location Locate the best place or places to plant trees in your yard. Look up. Avoid planting directly under overhead wires. If you can’t avoid them, plant trees that remain smaller. Choose a location that allows the tree to grow to its full dimensions. Plant at least 3 metres from a building, and at least 1 metre from driveways and sidewalks. Avoid planting in a space where you may build a deck or some other structure in the future.
Soil Type/ Moisture/ Light  Take note of the soil type (clay, sand, loam) and moisture available in your planting  location. Is the spot sunny, shady or both sun and shade? Make sure that the species  you choose for your yard is suitable for your yard’s conditions. 
Season The best time to plant a tree is in early spring or late fall, but trees can be planted throughout the summer as long as you water them regularly. Evergreens should be planted in the spring.
Call Before You Dig  By law, you must contact Ontario One-Call (www.on1call.com, 1-800-400-2255) at least one week prior to digging anywhere. This free service will check and mark your site for under-ground utilities. Ensure a safe dig!

Buy

Buy Native ReForest London recommends planting native trees. Native trees have grown in this climate for thousands of years and are better adapted to the stresses of our environment. They also support native ecosystems and biodiversity. ReForest London has a"Choosing the Right Tree in London Ontario" and "Choosing the Right Shrub in London Ontario" that you can bring to the nursery.
Buy Local Purchase your tree from a reputable nursery with knowledgeable staff to help you choose the best tree. Ask for native trees grown from local seed stock
Buy Healthy  Select a tree with a well-developed leader (main stem) and straight trunk with no major splits or scars. Branches should be evenly distributed. Look for flexible branches that show growth in the previous year, and plump buds or healthy leaves. If in a pot, check to make sure the plant has a good number of roots but has not become overly pot-bound.

 

Plant

Planting a Seedling Seedlings are small trees, usually less than 15 cm tall. They come in small pots or as plugs wrapped in plastic or burlap. It is very important that you plant these trees right away, as the plugs can dry out very quickly.  Dig a small hole, twice as wide as the pot or plug. Plant the seedling only as deep as the level of the soil – neither too deep nor too shallow. Roots should not be exposed. You may want to protect seedlings with a tomato cage to keep pets, children, and lawn equipment from crushing them.
Planting a Sapling Saplings are a bit larger, usually sold in 4 litre (1 gallon) pots. Remove any sod and then dig a hole twice as wide as the container, and about the same depth. You can check to ensure your hole is the correct depth by placing the tree in the hole and lining up the soil level in the container with the ground level. Carefully remove the pot; avoid pulling on the trunk. Once removed from the container, check the roots. If the roots are tightly compressed or “potbound”, use your fingers to carefully tease the fine roots away from the tight mass and then spread the roots prior to planting. Seat the plant in the hole and back-fill the original soil. Mix in some compost if you wish. Fill hole only to the soil level of the original container. Compress soil gently using your hands.
Planting a Large Tree Trees can also come in wire baskets and burlap. These should be planted as above, but you do not need to remove the wire basket. It helps keeps the root ball intact as you plant the tree. Once the tree is settled into the hole, cut back as much of the burlap as you can, and fold back the wire loops so they don’t stick out of the ground. Fill in the hole, packing and watering as you backfill to allow the soil to settle.

 

Care

Mulch Surround your tree with a thick “donut” of mulch. The mulch should not touch the tree, as it can rot the bark and kill the tree. Use at least 10 cm of mulch. Mulch keeps moisture in and discourages weeds. Add new mulch each season as needed.
Water The most important gift you can give to a new tree is water. Like all plants, trees need regular water. Newly planted tree that are trying to establish themselves and recover from the shock of being transplanted are especially suspectible to dry conditions. Watering a tree slowly and deeply is best. One easy way to do this is to turn a hose on very low and leave it at the base of the tree for 30-60 minutes, or use a soaker hose coiled around the "drip line" of the tree. Another way is to drill 2-3 (3/8 inch holes or less) in the base of a 20 litre (5 gallon) bucker. Fill the bucket and walk away, allowing the water to drain slowly into the soil. Please view more details watering instructions on our How to Water a Tree page. 
Protect New trees need our protection. Keep weed trimmers and lawnmowers at least a metre away from the base of the tree (a circle of mulch is a good way to remind yourself to do this). Don’t allow children to play on the branches until they are well-established and able to withstand weight. Do not trim a tree without researching tree trimming methods, and never cut the leader (also called “topping” or “pollarding”) off the top of the tree.

View a printable PDF Version

For more detailed steps on how to plant a tree, please visit our Planting Instructions page.

Adapted from information from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.