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9 Steps for Planting Trees That Thrive

Written by: Fred Hoppe, Board Certified Master Arborist WI-0556B, Certified Tree Care Safety Professional 00036, and ISA Qualified Tree Risk Assessor


Tree selection and planting is one of the many services we offer at Hoppe Tree Service

(HTS). In today's environment it is more important than ever to plant more trees.

Southeastern Wisconsin is in the middle of the emerald ash borer crisis and unfortunately facing the elimination of an incredible amount of trees. As those trees are lost, so are all the ecological and social benefits that large trees provide. Tree replacement is always in the conversation between our arborists and our clients when a tree has to be removed.

One of the most important times of a tree's life is at planting. In order for those trees to survive, thrive, and provide the benefits that we expect, planting has to be done right. The certified arborists at HTS know how to plant trees the correct way.


Watch our webinar to learn about picking and planting the right tree.

Proper planting starts with proper tree selection and placement. Matching the right tree to the site both benefits the tree and the property owner. Selecting a tree that is wrong for the site sets up the tree for increased maintenance, costs, and potential failure. Points to think about when selecting a tree include:


  • Function - shade, screening, and aesthetics

  • Form and size - Low and spreading for use under utility wires, narrow and columnar for screening between structures, large and vase-like to create shade for patios and sitting areas

  • Site considerations - soil conditions, sun exposure, drainage, hardiness, insect and disease susceptibility



Once the important step of selecting the right tree for the right space is completed, it is time for the actual planting. The best time of the year to plant depends primarily on how the tree is packaged. Most common types of packaging we see in our area are balled and burlapped or container-grown. Healthy balled and burlapped and container trees can be planted throughout the growing season. Bare-root planted trees are best installed in early spring before bud break or in fall after leaf drop.

There are nine simple steps to follow when planting your new tree. If these steps are followed correctly, your tree will be well on its way to getting established and thriving.

  1. Find the root flare: This is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. If the flare is not visible, soil will have to be removed until it is visible.

  2. Excavate a hole wider than deep: The hole should be at least 1.5X to 2X the diameter of the root ball. Loose aerated soil provides an easy pathway for roots to get established.

  3. Remove burlap/container and cut away the wire basket: If the wire basket cannot be completely removed, cut away as much as possible. Cut any visible circling roots.

  4. Place tree in hole at proper height: 1 to 3 inches above grade depending on site conditions.

  5. Straighten the tree in the planting hole: Make sure to view the tree from all major vantage points.

  6. Backfill the planting hole: Firmly enough to keep the tree straight, but not so firm it restricts root pathways.

  7. Provide a support system: Only install stakes and ties if needed. Make sure ties will not potentially damage the trunk or branches.

  8. Mulch base of tree: Add 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch to insulate the top of the root ball and retain moisture.

  9. Proper after care: Irrigate properly based on site conditions and species. Perform ongoing structural pruning and removal of dead and rubbing branches.

Following these simple steps while you plant your new tree or making sure your contractor follows these steps will get your tree on the fast track to getting established and contributing to the landscape and providing the benefits that you expect. If you have questions or would like to talk with a certified arborist about trees in your landscape, please feel free to contact us at 414-257-2111 or info@hoppetreeservice.com.


Source: www.treesaregood.org, a division of the International Society of Arboriculture.

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