A person's hands planting something in soil with a shovel

How to Plant a Tree: A Complete Guide to Growing Healthy and Beautiful Trees

Planting a tree can be a rewarding experience for the beauty and shade it provides and its benefits to the environment. Whether you're looking to add some greenery to your yard or want to contribute to reforestation efforts, knowing how to plant a tree properly is essential for its healthy growth. In this guide, we'll take you through the step-by-step process of planting a tree, from digging the hole to creating the ideal care bed. By following these tips, you can ensure your tree thrives for years to come.

For optimal tree care, we suggest adhering to these practical tips that our expert growers have developed from their own experiences and practical knowledge. When planting, it's crucial to avoid damaging or disrupting the root ball, particularly for balled-and-burlapped (field-grown) trees. Our planting instructions offer more comprehensive guidance on how to plant container-grown trees, which require a more distinct approach than field-grown trees. Soil separation and air pockets leading to dry roots may result from damaged or broken root balls. Although container-grown trees usually have denser roots, they may benefit from occasional root pruning or separation in areas with heavy rooting. 

The History and The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Bower & Branch firmly believes that the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, but there's no need to worry, as the second-best time is today! The nursery industry has been around for over 150 years in the US, but people have been planting trees for thousands of years around the world. While tree growing was traditionally done directly in the soil, known as Field Growing, it had limited harvest periods, typically only in early spring or late fall into winter, with some trees only harvested in the spring. But as our Tree Industry has developed and matured, we now grow a wide variety and percentage of Trees in containers, eliminating concerns about harvest. Therefore, Tree Planting Season is all year round, making today the best time to plant a tree.

How to Plant Your Bower & Branch Tree

Step 1: Call 811 Service

  • Before you start digging, call 811 for assistance. Learn more here about 811 services.
  • This is available to all consumers in all regions; it is a FREE SERVICE for locating power lines, water lines, and gas lines underground before you dig. 
  • Bower & Branch strongly recommends using this free service before preparing your planting hole. 
  • When you purchase Bower & Branch Green Glove Planting Services, Bower & Branch requires all our planting specialists to use the 811 Service for all tree plantings. 
  • It's important to call 811 before you start digging. Gas, electric, and water lines may be closer to the surface than you realize, so it's better to be safe than sorry. By taking this simple precaution, you can avoid costly repairs and planting delays. Let's all aim to dig our planting holes only once.

Step 2: How to Dig the Hole to Plant a Tree

How to Dig the Planting Hole when Planting a tree in your landscape

When it comes to planting a tree, one of the crucial steps is digging the right hole. A properly dug hole provides a solid foundation for the tree's roots and ensures optimal growth and stability. So grab your shovel and dig into the details of creating the perfect hole for your tree. Follow these two steps precisely, and your tree will be empowered for generations to come.


  1. How Wide? Bower & Branch recommends that the hole's width should not exceed 1 foot more than the rootball's size. It is best to leave only 4-6 inches of space around the tree's rootball.
    • Why do we do this?
      • To ensure the long-term health of a tree, it is important to promote a strong connection between its roots and the surrounding soil. This can be achieved by encouraging the roots to grow and spread effectively. As the roots become established, the tree will rely less on supplemental watering and instead utilize the natural moisture within the soil. By facilitating this transition, we can help the tree thrive in its environment.
      • In addition, minimizing movement, wiggling, and leaning of the tree is essential for its stability and overall well-being. By creating firm sides within the hole, we can provide a solid foundation that allows the tree to stand upright and tall. This reduces the reliance on staking methods while still enabling the tree to sway gently in the wind, which actually promotes stronger root growth. Striking a balance between stability and flexibility is key to fostering a resilient and flourishing tree.
  2. How deep? Arguably, the most crucial aspect of preparing your planting hole is ensuring the appropriate depth. Planting trees too deep can have adverse effects on their growth and overall health.
    • What is too deep?
      • It is crucial to ensure that the root flare is planted slightly above the soil level, about 2 inches from its position in the nursery. Thus, the hole should be 2 inches shallower than the depth of the root ball.
      • It is essential to maintain a firm bottom in the planting hole. A sturdy hole with firm sides and a solid base prevents the tree from settling or sinking lower over time. Ensure that the root ball of the tree is placed directly on the bottom of the hole, avoiding excessive depth. Pay attention to the root flare, which is the area just below the soil surface where the roots start to spread outward from the tree trunk.

 Keys to Successful Planting Hole Preparation

  1. Proper hole size: The hole should be slightly larger than the container or root ball, typically around 4" to 6" wider than the root mass. This provides sufficient space for the roots to spread and establish themselves.
  2. Proper depth: Avoid planting the tree too deep or too shallow. The general guideline is to have the top of the root ball positioned about 2" above the surrounding soil level. This allows for proper air circulation and prevents water accumulation around the trunk.
  3. Removing large rocks: Prior to planting, it is important to clear the area of any significant rocks or debris that may impede root growth or affect soil drainage. This ensures a favorable environment for the tree to flourish.
  4. Utilizing Bower & Branch Elements®: For optimal results, consider using Bower & Branch's recommended planting Elements exclusively. These specially designed products can enhance the planting process and support the tree's health and vitality.

By following these key principles, you can establish a solid foundation for successful tree planting and set the stage for long-term growth and prosperity.

Step 3: Planting Your Tree

Container-grown vs. Balled-and-burlapped

Container-grown trees and balled-and-burlapped trees differ in their root systems, and how they are grown and transported.

Container-grown trees are grown and nurtured in containers. These trees are grown with their root systems intact within the containers. When it comes time for planting, the tree can be removed from the container, and the roots are typically more compact and contained. Container-grown trees can be harvested at any given time.

On the other hand, balled-and-burlapped trees are typically grown in fields. When these trees are ready for transplanting, a ball of soil is dug out along with the tree's roots, which is then wrapped in burlap or a similar material to protect the root ball. This method helps maintain the tree's root system during transportation and provides some protection during planting. Balled-and-burlapped trees can only be harvested a specific times, depending on the tree variety and season.

The key distinction between the two lies in the condition and handling of their root systems. Container-grown trees have their roots confined within the container, while balled-and-burlapped trees have a soil ball surrounding their roots, which requires additional care during planting to ensure proper root integration into the new soil.

For Container-Grown Trees:

To properly position your tree for planting, we suggest laying it gently on its side with the root ball or container near the planting hole.Place your tree gently beside the tree planting hole

Gradually slide the container off the root ball by applying gentle downward pressure. In some cases, tree roots may have grown extensively, making it challenging to remove the container. If this happens, you can use pruners or a knife to make 2 or 3 cuts from top to bottom of the plastic container until it is free enough to be removed.

For Balled-and-Burlapped trees:

  • Carefully lay your tree on its side next to the planting hole to minimize root ball damage during the planting process.

  • Before placing the tree in the hole, remove all twine and rope from the root ball. Handle the root ball with caution and gentleness, aiming to keep it intact and undisturbed as much as possible.

  • Untie the root ball and gradually begin to pull back the wire basket, taking it off in small pieces using heavy-duty wire cutters. Be mindful not to disturb the root ball while removing the wire basket. Gently rolling the root ball can help in wire removal.

  • Bower & Branch strongly recommends removing all ropes, twines, and wire baskets before and during planting. *You can choose to gently roll the root ball into the planting hole first and complete the wire basket removal afterward to preserve root ball quality.

  • It is advisable to remove as much burlap as possible without disturbing the root ball.

Pruning and Root Care Before Planting

This is where things get beneficial - Great Tree Planters prune roots!  

Pruning roots can bring significant benefits to tree planting, although it is not necessary for balled-and-burlapped field-grown trees.

  • After removing the tree container, carefully examine the roots. If the roots are densely packed and thick, potentially even circling the bottom of the container, some root pruning or root massaging can be beneficial.
  • Using your hands, gently pull the roots away from the root ball, separating them and encouraging them to spread out and grow into the surrounding soil. This method of root pruning promotes healthy root growth.
  • In cases where root masses are exceptionally thick, Bower & BranchScoring the Root Ball of Your Container-grown tree recommends root scoring. This involves gently cutting the root masses about 2 inches into the root ball, making 3 to 4 scores around the root mass.

*Keep in mind that root pruning, root scoring, or handling the root ball requires additional watering. During the first growing season, it is important to ensure adequate watering, and there is no risk of overwatering under any circumstances.

How to Place the Tree in the Planting Hole

Once the hole is prepared, and the soil is ready, it's time to plant your tree.

Position your tree right next to the planting hole, laying it down on its side after removing the container or burlap.

Carefully roll the tree ball into the planting hole, focusing on maintaining the integrity of the root ball.

As the root ball takes its place, make sure to minimize impact and gently settle it onto the firmly prepared bottom of the hole. This may be challenging due to the weight of the root mass, depending on its size.

Placing Your Tree inside the Planting Hole

*Note: At this stage, it is advisable not to water until the tree is placed in the hole to reduce overall weight.

Once the tree is in place, position it upright and straighten it, ensuring it stands tall. You can also turn the tree as desired. Keep in mind that plants have a front and a back, so rotate the tree until the most visually appealing side faces your primary view. This is a matter of personal preference rather than a scientific guideline.

Backfilling with Soil

Once your tree is in the planting hole, it's time to proceed with the actual planting process!

  • Start by cleaning the soil. Remove any large rocks and stones from the soil in the planting hole.

  • Next, add Bower & Branch Elements® Composition Planting Mix to your soil. Open the bag(s) of Planting Mix, pour it over the soil, and mix them together. This step doesn't require perfection, and be sure to use the recommended amount of Elements® Composition Planting Mix.

  • Now, let's start planting! Begin filling the space between the root ball and the sides of the planting hole with the mixed soil. Take your time to firmly compact the soil as you go. This is important to eliminate air pockets around the roots and reduce the need for staking, ensuring the tree remains stable after planting.

  • Fill the hole with soil up to the desired level, as outlined in earlier steps.

Using the soil mixed with Bower & Branch Planting Mix and Fertilizer, gradually return the soil around the root ball. Firmly compact the soil as you add more, ensuring that all air pockets and spaces between the root ball and the sidewalls of the planting hole are filled.

If the root ball has become loose during the process, make sure to compact the soil around it as well. The goal is to provide a solid foundation for your tree.

Do not worry about compacting the soil too much, as it will settle naturally after planting. It is more important to minimize any movement of the root ball.

Remember to only add soil up to the root flare level, as mentioned in the earlier steps.

Step 4: Watering Your Newly Planted Tree

Ensuring that your tree is fully saturated is crucial at the time of planting. Before placing it into the planting hole, we have already made sure to water your tree well. Now after planting, it's important to thoroughly water them again. This process helps eliminate air pockets around the roots, promotes firm planting, and follows Bower & Branch water recommendations for planting time.

Now that your tree is planted, it's critical to provide the first in-ground watering. This is the optimal time to water your tree because it allows for easy permeation of water through the root ball, planting soil backfill, and surrounding soil.

During this step, water the tree thoroughly. This initial watering helps eliminate airWatering your newly planted tree pockets that can cause dryness around the new roots. It also benefits the root ball.

Avoid adding excessive water to the point where the soil becomes muddy. Aim to saturate the soil fully without creating a muddy consistency.

If you're uncertain, err on the side of providing more water. Keep watering until you feel confident that the soil is fully saturated. Adding too much water at this stage may make it more challenging to keep the tree perfectly upright, but it won't cause any other issues.

Step 5: Fertilizing at Time of Planting

Incorporate only Bower & Branch provided fertilizer as recommended during planting.

Bower & Branch highly recommends the use of Elements® Starter Plant Food Fertilizer Product. These all-natural products are enriched with living organisms that enhance the vitality of your soil. 

For ongoing care and maintenance of our products, including at planting time, we recommend the use of our Elements® Plant Care line.

Applying fertilizer during planting:

  • Mix Bower & Branch Fertilizer: Elements® Starter Plant Food with the planting hole soil, along with Elements® Composition Planting Mix. This ensures immediate and long-lasting availability of essential nutrients.
  • Bower & Branch suggests using Elements® Starter Plant Food Fertilizer for the ongoing care and maintenance of your tree and soil. This fertilizer helps bring your soil to life by introducing beneficial organisms.

Determining the appropriate amount of fertilizer:

  • Bower & Branch determines the recommended amount of Elements® Fertilizer based on the size of your tree at planting time. These recommendations are based on the real-world growing experiences of our network of family growers across the country.
  • Please note that Bower & Branch is not a fertilizer company. Our recommendations are made to empower your success and ensure years of success for your tree. We share the same concerns as our customers.

Exclusive 3-Year Guarantee:

You have the option to purchase the Bower & Branch 3-Year Guarantee for your tree(s). When delivering your tree(s), Bower & Branch provides the appropriate amount of planting elements for fertilizing, planting, and care beds. Additional Elements® can be purchased as needed. However, the 3-Year Guarantee must be purchased at the time of tree ordering.

Step 6: Building a Bower & Branch Care Bed Around Your Tree

A Bower & Branch Care Bed is a designated circular area around your tree that remains weed-free for a minimum of 10 years.

Care Beds offer not only aesthetic appeal but also prevent competition for water and nutrients from weeds and lawns.

Most importantly, the care bed provides protection against lawn mowers and trimmers, commonly known as Lawn Mower Disease.

Cleaning and creating a care bed:

After planting, watering, and fertilizing, it's time for clean-up and creating a Care Bed.

For newly planted trees of all sizes, Bower & Branch recommends establishing a Care Bed around your tree.

A care bed can be a circle of any preferred size, but we generally suggest a 3-foot wide circle.

Remove all sod, grass, stones, and weeds within the care bed area. Rake and clean the space thoroughly. Apply a layer of Bower & Branch Elements Composition Planting Mix, approximately 2 inches thick. Use only Bower & Branch Planting Mix for this purpose, as it promotes soil health, retains moisture, and suppresses weed growth.

Care beds should be cleaned, edged, and refreshed 1-2 times per year.

Why is this important?

The primary reason is to prevent tree scars and damage caused by mowers and trimmers. By maintaining a Care Bed, we provide some protection against such damage.

The second reason is to eliminate competition for water and fertilizer, ensuring the best conditions for your tree's ongoing health.

*NO VOLCANOS–Beware of over-mulching! Excessive mulch around the trunk and root flare area can be harmful. While you can apply mulch generously within the care bed, keep the mulch depth minimal around the trunk and primary root flare space. Tree roots require air in this root flare zone.

*Avoid deep mulching. Bower & Branch recommends using Elements® Composition Planting Mix for mulching around your trees. It is light, porous, and attractive. Specifically blended for Bower & Branch Tree Planting and Care Beds.

By consistently using and applying Bower & Branch Composition Planting Mix at both planting time and for care beds, you enhance soil health. Our mix, a blend of compost and pine bark, revitalizes your soil, benefiting your trees and other garden plants.

In a nutshell, planting a tree is a rewarding and impactful endeavor that brings beauty, shade, and environmental benefits to your surroundings. By following these step-by-step instructions provided by Bower & Branch, you can ensure that your tree gets off to the best possible start and thrives for years to come. Remember to carefully prepare the hole, handle the root ball with care, provide ample water and nutrients, and maintain a well-tended care bed. Your efforts will contribute to a healthier and greener world.

So go ahead, dig in, and plant that tree! Enjoy the process of watching it grow and flourish as it becomes a vital part of your landscape. Embrace the joy and satisfaction of knowing that you have made a positive impact on the environment and created a lasting legacy for future generations.

Thank you for joining us on this journey of tree planting. Happy planting and happy growing!

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