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Contact: Cassie Carver , (651) 633-4987

Tree Planting Made Simple

Research conducted by the University of Minnesota has found that many trees have been planted or mulched too deeply. The Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association and the University's urban forestry experts recommend the following planting instructions for trees and shrubs sold in plastic containers:

Digging the hole:

  • Dig the hole approximately two-three times as wide as the soil ball.
  • Measure the height of the root ball and dig the hole one-two inches less than that height. Don't dig deeper, or the plant will be too deep once the disturbed soil settles.
  • When digging is completed, roughen up the sides of the hole to help the roots grow.

Preparing the plant:

  • Remove the plastic container from the root ball. If the roots are growing in a circle, make three-four shallow cuts down through the roots and the soil ball.
  • Backfill the hole using the original soil from the hole. In most cases, plants will grow best if the original soil is altered as little as possible. Never completely backfill with an amendment.

Fertilizing and watering:

  • A slow-release, complete fertilizer will aid in the development of a strong and healthy root system. Never put fertilizer directly on the roots of your plant; instead, the fertilizer should be mixed thoroughly with your original soil prior to backfilling.
  • As you fill the hole, backfill evenly around the plant to minimize air pockets.
  • Once your planting hole is approximately three-quarters full of backfill, water the plant thoroughly to further eliminate air pockets. Then, completely fill the hole and water thoroughly once again.

After planting:

  • Never water automatically without first checking the soil to determine if watering is needed. Test the moisture of your soil about 4-8 inches deep. Water the plant only if it is too dry or only slightly damp. Sandy soil generally will need to be watered more frequently than clay soil.
  • Roots grow where oxygen and water are most available. Watering deeply and thoroughly and only as needed will encourage a deep and healthy root system that will be able to withstand environmental stresses.
  • A layer of several inches of mulching material such as wood chips will help retain soil moisture and help to prevent wide fluctuations in soil temperatures throughout the year. It will also inhibit the growth of weeds around the plant.
  • Don't mulch too deeply. Taper mulch away from the stem.


To find a garden center or landscape professional in your area, visit Minnesota's on-line gardening resource, GardenMinnesota.com.

The Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association is the state's largest green industry trade association with more than 1,500 member businesses including garden centers; landscape contractors and designers; tree and flower growers; irrigation contractors; and lawn, tree, and garden services.

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