Trees

How to Plant Containerized Trees

Trees purchased from nurseries are often delivered in a pot or container. These instructions are for planting containerized trees.

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You can print these instructions to take with you.

  1. Dig a hole 3 to 4 times wider than the container. The hole should have sloping sides like a saucer to allow for proper root growth.

  2. Carefully remove the tree from the container keeping the soil around the roots intact. It helps to tap the outside of the container to loosen the edge. Carefully slide the tree from the container. Don't yank the tree out of the container as this can separate the roots from the tree.

  3. Sometimes containerized trees become root-bound or the roots look like they're about to circle the root ball. If your tree is like this, cut an X across the bottom of the root ball and four vertical slices along the sides of the root ball with a sharp knife.

  4. Set the tree in the middle of the hole. Avoid planting the tree too deep. If the root collar sits below the top of the hole, compact some soil under the tree so that the root flare at the base of the trunk is slightly above ground level. Using some soil, secure the tree in a straight position, then fill and firmly pack the hole with the original soil, making sure there aren't any air pockets. Keep backfilling until the soil is just below the root collar.

    Illustration of a containerized tree being planted according to the fourth step.
  5. Illustration of a containerized tree being planted according to the fifth step.

    Create a water-holding basin around the hole and give the tree a good watering. After the water has soaked in, spread protective mulch 2–4 inches deep in a 3-foot diameter area around the base of the tree, but not touching the trunk.

  6. The soil and mulch around your trees should be kept moist but not soggy. During dry weather, generously water the tree every 7 to 10 days during the first year. Water slowly at the dripline.

  7. Illustration of a containerized tree being planted according to the seventh step.

    Remove any tags and labels from the tree as these will affect the tree as it grows. You may need to prune any broken or dead branches. (Please refer to the arborday.org pruning guide.)

A bag of fertilizer. Fertilizer? Do not use fertilizer, potting soil, or chemicals on your newly planted trees. Such products will kill your young trees.

Watering: Keeping your trees watered is important during their first year. Keep the soil and mulch moist but not soggy. In dry weather, you should water generously every 7–10 days. The water should soak into the soil and mulch. Avoid watering so much that you see standing water.