Follow These Steps for Tree Planting Success
Whether it’s adding shade, increasing privacy, or creating a property border, planting a tree can do a lot for your yard. Below are the steps you need to consider for successful tree planting.
Choosing the Best Trees for Your Yard
Our local area of Central Pennsylvania falls into climate zones 6-7 on the Hardiness Map. Suggested tree varieties that grow well in this climate include:
When choosing a new tree for your yard, also consider:
- Where will you plant the tree? —Is the area in full sun, partial sun, or shade? Choose a tree that thrives in these conditions.
- What shape does the tree have? — Will it grow tall and skinny or short and squat? How will that shape look in the desired location?
- What’s the height and width of the mature tree? — Will it grow to encroach on your home, your neighbor’s property, or nearby power lines?
- Will the tree lose leaves?— Is this an additional landscaping chore you’re willing to take on?
When To Plant A New Tree in PA Climates
New trees need to establish roots before they’re exposed to weather extremes like high heat, low temperatures, or drought. In our local area, prime tree planting seasons are spring and fall.
When you plant a tree in cooler temps, more of the tree’s energy goes into establishing roots. There is also reduced risk for root rot. Excessive heat and too much watering produce soil conditions that are ripe for fungi. In the spring and fall, less frequent watering is necessary.
Spring is great for flowering trees like dogwood, magnolia, and willows, pine trees and evergreens, and fruit trees. It’s also when you should plant any transplant trees.
The fall, on the other hand, is a good time to plant deciduous trees like maple, oak, or elm trees. Since they go dormant in the fall and winter, a deciduous tree can quickly establish roots because there are no leaves to feed.
The Best Soil for Planting Trees
The perfect soil has a good structure, drains well, retains moisture, is full of nutrients, is easy to cultivate, and warms quickly but does not dry out. It can also be hard to come by. Instead, you may encounter these types of soil in your yard:
- Clay — rock hard when dry, drains poorly, heavy to cultivate, warms slowly
- Sandy — gritty to the touch, easy to cultivate but dries out quickly, may lack nutrients, warms quickly
- Silty — well-drained, retains moisture, richer in nutrients, but weak structure makes it easily compacted
- Acidic — feels spongey, few nutrients, retains water and may require drainage, warms up quickly in spring
- Chalky — high pH (alkaline), includes stone, may lack certain minerals
The best way to improve a less than ideal soil is adding organic matter (mulch/compost).
- Add compost or planting mix to topsoil when planting
- Complete the planting process with mulch
- Don’t dig if it’s too wet or too dry — this can damage your soil
Tree Planting Tips from Our Experts
For a healthy tree that grows for years to come, follow these steps to plant a tree that’s balled and wrapped in burlap.
- Dig a hole twice the width of the root ball and the same depth. The rootball should be slightly higher than ground level when placed in the hole.
- As you dig, transfer the soil into a wheelbarrow and combine with a planting mix (50/50 ratio). Also, add starter fertilizer into the mix (and add a little in the bottom of the dug out hole).
- Place your tree and start to refill the hole. Add your soil mixture a bit at a time and tamp down with your feet.
- Before you add too much soil, remove the twine and burlap from around the rootball. Fold the burlap down — do not remove the burlap from your tree — and continue to add soil.
- Finally, add a layer of mulch about 2” thick. Leave a gap around the trunk of the tree, don’t create a mulch volcano!
For a tree sold in a container, follow the same steps with one addition:
- Before you place your tree in the hole, remove your plant from the container and “rough up” the roots that have conformed to the shape of the container.