About Trees

The Right Way

Call 811 before you dig!

The Right Way to Plant a Tree

It takes a lot of hard work to plant a tree and nothing can be more frustrating than to have a tree you plant die for no apparent reason.  Poor planting techniques can have negative impacts on the health of a new tree that may not be noticeable until it is too late.  Taking the time to properly plant a tree is well worth the effort as you will be rewarded for decades to come.

Below are the basics of how to properly plant a tree based on current research.  For more in-depth instructions, click here for CSU Garden Notes…


Tree planting instructions

1. Call 811 before you dig
Underground utility lines can present serious safety risks when digging a hole for a tree. Call 811 before you dig or submit a locate request online. Utility locators will come to your property to mark underground electric, gas and communications (telephone, cable, etc.) lines. One easy phone call gets your underground utility lines marked for free.

2. Determine how deep to dig the hole
Find the first major root within the root ball (the top of the root ball begins where the roots start to emerge from the trunk); gently remove soil from the top of the root ball until you find a root branching off of the trunk where the trunk appears to get wider.  The depth of the hole should allow the first major root to sit 1 to 2 inches above the soil line when root ball is placed in the planting hole.

3. Dig the planting hole
Dig a hole at least twice as wide as the width of the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball. At least three times as wide is optimal.  It is very important not to plant the tree too deeply. If the tree is planted too deeply it will struggle and may die prematurely.

4. Set tree in place*
Gently position the tree in the planting hole.  Look at the tree from several directions and check that the tree is straight.
* If the tree is in a container, remove the container. Shave off 1 to 1 ½ inches of the root ball with a knife to eliminate circling roots.

5. Remove root ball wrapping
Remove all packaging including string, twine, wire and rope. Remove as much burlap as possible without damaging the root ball.

6. Backfill
Use the soil removed from the planting hole to backfill, taking care not to pile soil up against the base of the trunk. As the hole is backfilled, use water to settle the soil around the root ball and to collapse any large air pockets in the soil.  Do not compact the soil by stepping on it.

7. Mulching
Cover the backfill area with 1 to 4 inches of mulch, keeping it off the root ball and away from the base of the trunk. Mulch keeps the topsoil temperate for root growth, reduces surface evaporation of water, slows or stops weed and grass growth around the tree's base and prevents a hard crust from forming on the soil surface.

8. Watering
Newly planted trees need frequent watering since the root ball is prone to drying out. Check the root ball and surrounding soil for moisture regularly. Both the root ball and the surrounding soil should be moist but not soggy. Remember, newly planted trees will need more water during periods of extremely high temperatures or winds.

9. Register your new tree!
Make your tree count toward The Mile High Million goal - register your tree today! 

Still need a little more help?

Check out easy to understand video clips from the Arbor Day Foundation...

Don't want to do all the hard work yourself?

If you need an experienced contractor to help you select and plant a tree, go to the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado's site  to find a Pro near you.

Trees Benefit Society

In laboratory research, visual exposure to settings with trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. —Texas A&M University

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