Tips for Tree Planting
- When to plant: A freshly planted tree needs some time to root and acclimate to the local soil conditions, so a good time to plant is in the spring or fall—before temperatures go down to freezing in the winter or before the intense heat and dryness of summer. Fall is really the best time to plant.
- Trees must be kept moist and in a shady spot before they are planted. Don't leave it too long before planting it!
- The important thing to remember is to dig a hole three times as wide as the diameter of the root ball of the tree. This will give the tree enough worked soil to establish itself at the planting spot. Save the soil because most of it will go back into the hole after you position the tree.
- Don't submerge the tree. Keep the hole at the same height as or even slightly less (about 1 inch less) than the height of the root ball. Raise the bottom of the hole slightly higher to prevent water from pooling at the base of the roots.
- Before you fill in the hole, scar the sides by scratching grooves in the soil. Scarring allows the tree roots to be able to easily spread out of the planting zone, reach out through the ground, and anchor well into the surrounding soil. It is important that the sides of the planting hole don't form any kind of barrier to the roots or to the movement of water.
- Prepare the tree roots before they go in. Carefully remove the tree from its container (pot, burlap bag, sawdust and plastic, etc.). Gently tease the roots apart and spread them out before planting (this is called butterflying the roots). Loosening the root structure is important. If this isn't done the roots might continue to grow in this tightly compressed way, girdling and killing the tree. Spreading out the roots helps the tree to be more resilient as it anchors itself into the surrounding soil.
- Once the tree is securely in place, backfill the hole with the original soil. Tamp the soil gently into place around the roots, but don't tamp down the actual roots themselves. Don't add grass back to the hole.
- A very important thing to remember: Leave the top of the root ball (where the roots end and the trunk begins) exposed about ½ to 1 inch above the soil. If the base of the trunk is covered with soil it might rot.
- Once you've filled in the hole, stand back and take a good look at the tree. Is it straight? You might need to stake the tree for 6 months to a year. Also, take steps to protect the tree from deer. Water all around the hole, so that the root ball can get the moisture it needs without standing in water.
- Depending on the type of tree and the planting situation, you might also want to mulch around the base of the tree. Mulching keeps the top soil covered so that temperatures are optimal for root growth; it prevents the soil from getting too hot or too cold. It also keeps the water in the soil from evaporating away. The mulch itself releases nutrients to feed the tree and slows weed and grass growth around the tree's base. Be sure to do your homework and make sure that mulching is appropriate for your particular situation.
Helpful Links on Tree Planting
For more information, check out these helpful links:
- Plant Your Tree
More information on the steps you need to take when planting a tree.
- Choose a Tree
Figure out what type of tree would be best for your home.
- Native Trees and Shrubs:
Find out which trees are native to our area.
- Plant Your Way Game
Learn to strategically plant trees and shrubs near buildings to reduce home heating and cooling costs.
- Tree Owner's Manual (PDF, 40 pp, 4.4Mb)
The U.S. Forest Service has published a manual to guide you through caring for your trees from purchase to planting and maintenance. Download and print your own free copy of this valuable resource
- Tree Planting Tutorial | Printable Tree Planting Guide (PDF, 2 pp, 3Mb)
Want to plant your own tree but don't know how? The local Casey Trees Foundation has helpful pictures and a printable guide to take outside with you when you plant.
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How to Care for Trees
Mulching can be beneficial to some trees if done properly. It can protect them from mowers, reduce the need for weeding, protect them from extreme temperatures, and provide additional moisture. Put mulch around all trees twice a year to maintain a layer between 2 and 3 inches deep. Mulching keeps weeds and grass away from trees so they won’t use the water before it gets to the tree roots. Mulch around your trees also conserves moisture in the soil, adds nutrients and organic matter, and keeps it cooler.
Download a set of printable Mulch Meters! (PDF, 2pp, 168K)
Newly planted trees require extra water in the summer when its hot. Be sure to water young trees each week that it doesn’t rain significantly in the summer, especially July and August. Each tree should receive three to five gallons of water per week. Established trees and shrubs rarely need watering besides rain water; however, in the heat of July and August watering big trees helps reduce stress and makes trees healthier.
Slow and Steady
Tree roots require slow, deep watering. Don't water with a spray nozzle. Instead, try one of the following methods:
- Use a soaker hose (a hose with small holes along its length). Place the hose near the tree trunk. Turn the water faucet on with very low pressure for one hour. If possible, cover the hose with mulch and leave it in place during the summer for easy watering.
- Use clean buckets or plastic milk jugs with tiny pin holes in the bottom that allow water to drip out (not flow out). Place a full bucket near the tree trunk. Put rocks in the bottom to keep it in place. Check to ensure that it empties in several hours.
- Use gator bags, or specialized tree watering bags. These bags use the same slow-drip technique as above. Remove these bags from the tree once emptied of water. If left on too long, bacteria may attack your tree or rodents may eat your trees from inside the bag.
- Use your regular garden hose. Turn on the water, then turn the faucet as near to completely off as possible but allow some water to slowly drip out. Leave your dripping hose near the base of your tree for 2 hours on one side of the tree, and then move to another side for an additional 2 hours
Do not fertilize newly planted trees. In later years, fertilizing might be beneficial. You can get help to determine appropriate methods and rates of application by contacting the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 1.800.342.2507.
Deep Root Fertilization
You may not hear them complaining, but your trees are hungry. Trees growing in our yards and cities rarely receive the same nutrients they would if they were growing in a forest. In order to increase your trees’ vigor, deep-root fertilization can add those nutrients back into the soil. Well-nourished trees are stronger and less susceptible to disease, insects, drought, and other stresses.
Deep-root fertilization effectively provides nutrients to trees because it is directed to a tree’s feeder roots. Getting fertilizer below the grass to the roots of trees is important and not overly complex. Many licensed tree care companies offer this service, but it can also be done on your own with the proper supplies including an auger or fertilizer probe, hose, and a measuring tape.
"How to" Deep Root Fertilize
- Always follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer.
- Test your soil before fertilizing to determine what is lacking.
- Never fertilize a newly planted tree. After two growing seasons, test your soil to see if fertilization is needed.
- Time it right: Fertilize in October or November to encourage root development and/or in March or April, just after the soil has thawed to encourage tip and leaf growth.
- Choose a fertilizer for trees; it’s not the same as fertilizer for grass. Look for “Tree” or “Evergreen” (if you have pines, spruces or other trees with needles) and water insoluble nitrogen (WIN) on the label. Good fertilizers can be found at home and garden or hardware stores and cost about $1-3 per pound.
- Use a slow-release fertilizer to protect the quality of water in our watersheds.
- Choose your method of application:
- Fertilizer stakes are pushed into the ground below the grass
- Granular fertilizer is placed into in holes you drill in the soil (about 10 inches deep)
- Liquid fertilizer is injected 8-10 inches below the surface into the soil with a probe
- Visualize your target, where to put the fertilizer? Fertilize under the branches of the tree in a grid formation, about every 2 ft. Start at the dripline, or the ends of the branches, and go in towards the stem of the tree. For all trees, put fertilizer in about 2/3 of the way from the tips of the branches in to the tree trunk. For very large trees, stay about 6-8 feet away from the stem of the tree. This is the area that has the highest concentration of roots
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Plant A Tree and Save Some Green: Coupons Available!
Marylanders Plant Trees - Save $25 on a new tree!
Be counted toward the state's goal of 50,000 trees by 2010—and save $25 when you buy a new tree! Check out www.trees.maryland.gov for information and to receive your printable discount coupon. After planting, register your trees and calculate the benefits they provide. Let's make Montgomery County one of the best contributors in the state!
Download a printable discount coupon (PDF, 1 pg, 359K)
Leaves for Neighborhoods - Save $25 on a new tree!
Montgomery Planning Department's Leaves for Neighborhoods program will save you green when you plant trees. Print out the coupon to save $25 on a tree purchase of $75 or more. At nurseries participating in both this program and the state program (Marylanders Plant Trees), you can use both coupons to save the most!
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How to Buy a Tree
Planting a tree sounds easy enough, but there are a few things to consider before the tree goes in the ground. By making a handful of careful choices as you select what to buy and where to plant it, your tree will be healthier and you’ll enjoy it more.
Select the right tree for the right place. Where do you want to plant your tree(s) and why? Planting a tree for shade can save energy. Consider the full size potential, or how big the tree will grow, before you plant. Check for utility lines overhead, and always call Miss-Utility at 1.800.257.7777 or submit a request online before you dig.
Select the right tree species for your site. Native trees are preferable to non-natives because of their natural pest and disease resistance and adaptation to the local landscape. View a list of native trees and shrubs commonly found in the Piedmont region. Learn more about buying native plants from the Maryland Native Plant Society.
Select the best tree from the nursery. When choosing a containerized tree (a tree grown in a pot vs. a ball & burlap), check for girdling or encircling roots. Have a nursery assistant help you slide the root ball out of the container to get a good look at it. You should see a root system that is proportionate in size to the crown.And you should see some new growth – look for clean white tips on the ends of the roots. Avoid undersized or discolored leaves that do not look “normal”, and avoid heavily pruned branches.
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Sources for Trees
Sources in Maryland
TREE-Mendous Maryland can provide high-quality native trees at low cost, for use on public property only. Qualifying public property includes: community open space, school grounds, government facilities, and rights-of-way. Fall is the best time to plant, so start your planning now!
Maryland Native Plant Society provides information on shopping for native plants in the Middle Atlantic region.
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