Tree Planting 101: Part 2 – Planning & Digging

When is the best time to plant?

Once the tree species, location and purpose have been determined, the next step is waiting for the right time to plant the tree.  Depending on the regional climate, a tree might thrive better when planted in the fall, just before the ground freezes in the winter – or after the winter in early spring once the ground is unfrozen.  A professional arborist can help schedule the best time to plant depending on the tree species and climate within a given region.

Research the Dig Site

Once the location is set, an arborist can schedule a time to dig and plant the tree.  These steps will be followed to ensure that the hole is dug properly:

  1. Have property marked for utility lines before digging
  2. Identify the soil type and dig according to type
  3. Consider the hole size.  Digging a hole 2-3 times the size of the rootball (width-wise) gives us adequate space to backfill and to provide the tree’s root system ample space for root growth.  As a rule of thumb, the hole should be dug the depth of the rootball.  People often assume that the top of the rootball needs to be at grade, but, when planting a tree sometimes that assumption can lead to planting the tree too deep.  When the tree is planted too deep, the plants cannot get the necessary oxygen from the top of the soil.

Helpful digging tips:

  • When digging up large dirt clods, we break up the clods to make backfilling a bit easier
  • Loosen up soil in hole using a pitch fork to make sure the roots can penetrate into the soil once planted
  • Do not dig too deep
  • Use the shovel to measure the rootball, and then transfer that measurement into the planting hole.
  • Locate the root flare of the tree.  The root flare is where the trunk meets the  soil and where the major roots start to flare out into the soil.  If the tree is in burlap, we will need to open up the burlap at the top and search for where the first root comes off the top of the base of the tree.  That is the level that needs to be at grade, the same height as the surrounding native soil.  If planted at the top of the rootball, the tree might be a matter of inches deeper than it should – which can lead to major problems.
  • Look at the dark mark just above the tree’s root surface.  This indicates the mark where the tree was originally planted.  It is important that this mark is flush with the top of the new soil.  We must add or remove soil to make sure this mark lines up with the soil line.
  • Fruit tree: most fruit trees are graphted above the stock – the graft should always be located above the ground.