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Tree Planting FAQ’s: What’s the Best Way to Plant a Tree?

It’s tree-planting time again! The fall, with its cooler day and night temperatures, is the ideal time to plant trees and large shrubs — this gives your larger plants the entire cool season to put down deep roots and get established before leafing out in the spring. But, there seems to be a bit of misinformation out there about how to plant a tree properly, and we don’t want you to be misinformed.

side view of father and son planting tree at park

So, here are some FAQs for tree-planting basics — it’s really not that difficult once you get them down!

Q: How big does the hole need to be?

A: Big. Using a shovel, dig a hole just shallower than the depth of the tree’s root ball, and twice as wide as the root ball. You might be able to get away with a hole that is 1.5 times as wide, but I think wider is better.

Q: Should I put compost in the hole?

A: Not usually. Filling the hole with only premium soil or compost typically encourages the tree’s roots to stay in their nice, cozy hole where they have a feast. If you don’t have everything you want to eat at your table, you’ll go to a restaurant, and your tree’s roots will do the same. At most, mix 75% of your native soil with 25% of compost and add that back into the hole — but usually, unless the native soil is just really bad, I leave it alone.

mother and children helping planting young tree.

Q: Can I leave the burlap around the root ball of the tree after planting it?

A: It’s not recommended. Back in the day, burlap was highly biodegradable, but today’s burlap is often treated with chemicals to keep it from rotting. Leaving the burlap on can create a barrier for your roots, and that can keep your tree from establishing and thriving. Best to remove it completely.

Q: Should I stake the tree?

A: Only if it’s at risk of falling over because it’s an unusually windy site or the canopy of the tree is disproportionately large — otherwise, leave it be. Trees’ growth is responsive to their environment, so the action of a tree trunk or branches swaying with the breeze actually makes the tree’s roots grow stronger and deeper.

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