How to Plant a Tree – as Easy as One, Two, Tree!

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planting a tree

I’m a tree hugger. Not in any kind of political sense, but simply in an I just love trees sense. Sadly, we had to take down one of our old aspen trees this year. It was a large one that provided shade and seclusion to our deck. In its healthy years, it also provided that quaking aspen sound that made me feel like I was in the mountains. It was hard to see it go. And it was really, REALLY hard to remove. It took most of the day. We sawed off branches and then the upper sections of the tree. We kept moving down until we got to all of the underground roots and shoots where we dug, yanked, sawed, and hacked. When we finally wrangled the stump out, we had a huge hole to place a new tree into. So we went and bought ourselves a new tree.

One: A Location Not to Die For

We had already had a tree in this particular location, so we knew it was a successful spot. The location of a tree is an important consideration as a first step to transplanting a tree or to growing one from seed. When you get a hankering to plant a tree, make sure there will be enough space for it once it has reached its mature size. Fifteen feet from structures is a good rule of thumb. And check with your local extension office for trees that grow well in your region. For example, a coniferous tree, like a blue spruce, would have been an easier choice than an aspen for our yard. Coniferous trees are hardy and not terribly finicky. Aspens, on the other hand, love the mountains more than the plains. So we tried to provide it with some mountain-ish features, like a good irrigation system and some shade during the summer. We just did our best. Which wasn’t bad. Our aspen lived for thirteen years, but it was not as happy as those we see flourishing at higher elevations. So, in the end, we decided not to doom another aspen to that location in our yard.

planting a tree
Our young Honeycrisp apple tree.

We decided to doom a Honeycrisp apple tree, instead. Of course, while we hope we aren’t actually dooming the apple tree, fruit trees do make me chew my nails a bit. Mostly because we live in a region with completely bipolar springtime weather. We can have a week or two of seventy degree days in March or April which tells the plants to rise, shine, and bloom, only to be followed by a deep freezing snowstorm which zaps fruit blossoms and weakens even the hardiest trees and plants. The saving grace for our new little apple tree is that it has been planted on a northwest corner. This might seem counter intuitive as this is a colder location than a southern spot. But the northwest will be protected from that southern sunshine in the early spring that might trick the buds to open too soon. So, we have chosen a tree that is a good size for our area even when it is fully grown, we understand its growing needs, and the lifespan of an apple tree is long. If all goes well.

Two: A Perfect Hole for One

planting a tree
This hole for our tree is almost ready to go.

Ideally a hole for a transplanted tree will be about three times wider and about 2 inches shallower than the root ball. The hole for our new little tree is too deep, so we back filled it with some of the dirt we removed with the aspen.

We incorporated some compost and a soil mix for trees into the hole to refresh the level of nutrients. And we set the new tree into the hole. We continued to fill around the root ball with a mix of soil for new trees and the regular ground soil. We turned the tree a little to face the way we preferred, and we left the top of the root ball slightly above ground level. We saturated the ground with several gallons of water. Once the water had soaked into the ground, we covered the dirt around the base of the tree with a couple inches of mulch. The tree will need a little fresh air and breathing room, so we left a couple of inches right up to the trunk free of mulch.


planting a tree
Plenty of water to the roots is what new trees require most.

Now that our tree is in the ground, there is one more important detail to attend to. The roots of a newly planted tree will need a daily dose of water. We have drip lines in place for all of the trees in our yard, so this new addition will receive water each day via that method. If you don’t have an automatic watering system, there are special bags that can be placed at the foot of a new tree. You fill the bags weekly, and they deliver water to the ground around the trunk daily. Look for them in the gardening department of your local hardware store. If you have time to water your new tree daily by hand, that will work too. Just don’t forget like I might. Regular and consistent watering is really important throughout the first one or two years after transplanting a tree.

Finally, I gave our tree a little hug. I really hope that it grows up tall and strong and provides our home with beauty, shade, and maybe even apples if we can find another apple tree to pollinate it with. We’ll see. Meanwhile, we wish you luck with your tree planting, too. We hope this how to plant a tree guide helps!

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About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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1 thought on “How to Plant a Tree – as Easy as One, Two, Tree!”

  1. I’m planning on buying a tree for some shade in my backyard. Thank you for the tips on planting and making sure it survives the transplant 🙂 I didn’t know the hole needed to be 3 times wider than the root ball, and 2 inches deeper. I’ll take that into consideration once I’m planting it.


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