7 Steps to a Perfectly Planted Tree or Shrub

Blooms, structure, increased resale value: Trees and shrubs offer it all. Here's the scoop on planting perfect trees and shrubs.

Distinctive foliage and flowers on trees and shrubs add year-round interest to any yard and create privacy. Even the smallest varieties can pack the biggest punch. Take our tips to plant a perfect tree or shrub in your yard.

1. Buy Your Plant

First things first, buy a tree or shrub to plant. Trees and shrubs can be bought in three different forms from your local nursery—bare-root, balled-and-burlapped, or in a container. Here's the difference between these options.

Bare-root: Trees can be purchased with free-flowing roots—no container, no dirt, no nothing. Plant them in a hole with the roots draped over a mound of soil, which may enable them to take root and grow faster than balled-and-burlapped or container options.

Balled-and-burlapped: This option keeps the root in dirt but swaps out a container for a piece of burlap secured around the root ball. Planting is much like a container-bound tree or shrub—remove the burlap and place in a hole in the ground.

Container: No trick to these—most shrubs and many trees are sold potted in a container that you remove before planting in a hole. Be sure to tease out the roots before planting.

2. Dig a Hole

Duh, right? But here's the thing: You need to dig the hole in a saucer shape about three times wider than the container or root ball. That's because you're loosening up the surrounding soil, giving new roots an easier time to shoot out and get growing. See the next step to figure out how deep to dig the hole.

Test Garden Tip: Be careful where you plant—some roots can damage your foundation or sidewalks.

3. Determine Depth

Take a look at your tree where the trunk meets the roots. This is called the tree collar, and once your tree or shrub is planted, this should sit just out of the ground. For container or balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs, keep digging the hole until it's deep enough for proper placement.

4. Prep the Tree or Shrub

Take it out of its container or remove the burlap, being careful not to damage any roots. For container trees, take a really good look at the roots. Can you see lots of them circling around the outer edge of the dirt? This means your tree has been growing in that pot a long time, and you need to give it some TLC. Take a sharp knife and slice an X into the bottom of the root ball, then slice a couple of times vertically along the sides. Set a bare-root tree in a bucket full of water for about three hours before you plant it.

5. Tree, Meet Planting Hole

Container or balled-and-burlapped trees are easy. You've dug your hole to the right depth and width, so now you just set the prepped tree in the middle of the hole. Bare-root trees are slightly trickier. For these you need to pile a mound of dirt in the center of the hole, then carefully drape the roots over the mound.

Test Garden Tip: Check out how the tree looks vertically from all angles. A crooked tree is tough to fix.

6. Fill 'Er Up

Now it's time to infill around the roots. Fill but don't pack—you want soil loose enough for your tree's roots to grow into. Stop backfilling when your root collar is just exposed. Feel free to use leftover soil to create a raised bank as watering well.

7. Give It a Drink

Your tree is in shock. It needs some love—and some water. A slow drip is great, as is a nice covering of mulch. Form a 3-foot circle of mulch out from the base that almost reaches, but doesn't touch, the trunk.

More on Trees and Shrubs

Small-space gardening can be a challenge when it comes to trees. We show you the best trees for small yards, including flowering trees like crabapple and the ever-popular Japanese maple, tree-planting tips, and more.

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