How to Plant Shrubs and Trees

Authorities no longer advise amending soils when planting shrubs and trees. Research shows that root balls in amended soils grow out to the end of the amended area then circle around back into it.

Here’s How:

  • Make sure you’ve chosen the right plant for the space. Full sun may kill a shade-lover, and a plant that needs full sun won’t tolerate shade. Trees should not be planted underneath power lines.
  • Dig a hole no deeper than the rootball, but 3 times wider.
  • Don’t lift the plant by the trunk. Lay it down and slide it out of the container, or cut the container away from it.
  • Place the plant in the hole, making sure that the soil level will remain the same (an exception to this rule is camellias, who enjoy being an inch or two above the soil line).
  • Refill the hole with garden soil, eliminating any air pockets in the process. Roots should grow into surrounding soil.
  • Create a temporary water basin around the plant with soil so that water will penetrate the basin area.
  • Water thoroughly via a hose with water pressure on low. A sprinkler is not appropriate for this.
  • Prune only diseased, damaged or broken limbs and stems. Old methods suggested pruning 1/3 of the plant, but current research dictates otherwise.
  • Apply a 3″ layer of organic mulch around the plant, keeping it at least 1″ away from the trunk.
  • Water often the first year until established.


  • If the root ball is covered with burlap, remove it. It could be a synthetic material that only resembles burlap, and roots may not be able to penetrate it.
  • If the plant can stand without being staked, don’t stake it. Staking often does more harm than good and is no longer recommended by experts.
  • Don’t scrimp on the mulch; it discourages weeds, helps retain moisture in the soil, and regulates the soil temperature.