University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Fall is the ideal time to plant a tree--both
for the gardener and the tree! The weather is cooler, so it is more
working outdoors. The tree also benefits because the soil is better
retain moisture now than during the hot days of summer, so it becomes
established easily. Roots will continue to grow in fall, even though
losing their leaves. Trees will be in
containers, so should be well-rooted, with little root disturbance
When selecting a tree, consider your lawn's
soil, sun, moisture, and temperature conditions, as well as your
preferences regarding color, size, and leaf shape. Make sure the tree
hardy in your area, especially if you live in mountains or a frost
Make sure the site you pick to plant the tree
will accommodate the tree after it has matured. Look up, down, and
around. Look up to see if the tree will interfere
with any power lines as it grows. Look
down to make sure there aren’t any buried utilities or septic
Some communities require you to call Dig Safe
before planting to ensure you don’t accidentally disrupt
get injured. Look around to make sure
the tree, as it grows, wont crowd other plants or buildings.
Before you plant the tree, test your soil for
drainage. Dig a hole, fill it with water, and check it twice--once
hours have elapsed, again after 48 hours. If the hole drains well in
frame, the soil should adequately support a tree. If not, choose
If this is not possible, choose a tree that will tolerate occasionally
Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than, and
about as deep as, the tree's rootball. The hole should be deep
to plant the tree at the same
depth, or slightly above the depth, it was in the nursery field. If you
dig the hole too deep, the
tree will settle as you water it. This places stress on the root system
and trunk as it sinks below
ground. Before planting a potted tree,
dig around the trunk gently to make sure you see the top roots, and
just below the soil surface. The
"flare"-- where the trunk begins to spread out-- should be at the
Obviously remove the container if plastic. If the container is a
material, it is
best to remove it too. Some biodegrade,
but others are treated to last a long period.
This will impede root growth.
These are easy to remove by slitting the sides once the pot is in the
hole. The same applies to burlap, some
of which is treated. At the least,
remove all the twine tying the ball, as this will restrict roots and
growth before it degrades.
After placing the tree in the hole, refill it
with the soil you initially removed. There are many different views on
mix--or not to mix--into this soil. For example, it's probably not a
to add too much organic matter, especially if the native soil is very
or poor. This will encourage the roots to stay in the nice mix, and not
out into the poorer soil. You can add up
to 20 percent compost or peat moss or similar.
You need to make sure the soil pH is right
before planting. Soil test kits are
available from local Extension office, and many garden and feed stores,
results will tell how much of what may be needed. Usually in
states you may need to add
some lime to sweeten the soil, or raise the pH.
It's also good to add a small amount of phosphorus at planting, such as
from rock phosphate (organic) or superphosphate, as phosphorus doesn't
the soil and won't reach roots otherwise. Just use a small amount, such
couple tablespoons for a 5-gallon bucket of soil.
As you refill the hole, gently tamp the soil to remove
air pockets and establish good contact between it and the roots.
Gently is the key word. Stomping it tight will destroy soil
structure. Leave a
small trough on the surface, away from the trunk, to hold water.
water deeply, perhaps a couple gallons
of water for a 10-gallon hole (amount of soil dug would fill a couple
buckets). Water weekly if it doesn’t
rain at least an inch during the week.
Don’t fertilize until spring to avoid
stimulating new growth. Then you can use
special fertilizer tree stakes, or simply sprinkle some
fertilizer around the tree but away from the trunk.
Remove any grass within a couple feet of the
trunk. This will keep mice away from the
trunk in winter, reduce competition with tree roots for nutrients, and
weed trimming injury to trunks. Add a
couple inches of organic mulch on this area, but not next to the
trunk. Mulch, especially the deep mulching often
seen that resembles a volcano, will encourage rots on the lower trunks
Finally, stake the tree to avoid shifting in
the wind. Use a couple sturdy stakes at
minimum, three for larger trees, equally spaced around the trunk and a
two away. Use special tree twine or
cloth, or rubber hose protectors over wires, to avoid trunk
If single trunks, placing a tree guard on
them during winter will prevent sunscald injury, and chewing damage
mammals and mice. These are usually
plastic sleeves, a couple feet tall, that wrap around the trunk, and
removed during the summer.
Tight on space? Then consider one of the smaller species or
cultivars (cultivated varieties). There
are some nice selections of dwarf conifers (cone-bearing evergreens) in
leaf colors and shapes that fit well on smaller properties.