Planting a tree or shrub is easy! At Rainbow Gardens, we make it even easier with our simple-to-follow Tree and Shrub Planting & Care Guide. Remember to carry your trees and shrubs home by the container or root ball (never the trunk) to avoid damage. Use a tarp to protect your tree on the ride home.  Highway winds can burn and damage the leaves.

6 Easy Steps for Planting Trees and Shrubs

1. Dig the hole no deeper than the height of the root ball and twice as wide as the root ball. Digging a hole at the proper height and width is imperative to the health and life of your tree. Put the native soil in a wheelbarrow or on top of a piece of plastic adjacent to the hole. Throw away any caliche and rock that is found in the soil. If a lot of rock is encountered consider building a large raised bed.

2. Backfill the hole with the native soil that was removed when digging the hole. If your soil is very poor, you can amend the backfill soil by using a mix of 1/3 soil conditioner with 2/3 native soil. (Only use soil conditioner or finished compost to mix with native soil; no potting soil.) Gently tap the container and slide out the root ball, being careful not to break up the root system. If the root ball will not come out easily, cut the pot with a utility knife or scissors.

3. Carefully set the tree or shrub in the hole, holding on to the root ball. Make sure trunk is perpendicular to ground. Top of root ball should be even with ground level or slightly above. Fill in around the sides of the root ball with the soil mixture, firming the soil as you fill to eliminate air pockets. 

4. Build a 4 inch tall berm around the edge of the planting hole with living mulch for efficient watering. Water the tree/shrub thoroughly. Adding root stimulator afterwards will aid in root hair development. Fill the berm with 4 inches of shredded mulch to conserve water and eliminate competing weeds/grasses. (Never pile mulch adjacent to the tree trunk. Wet mulch touching the tree’s bark can cause the bark to rot and may injure or kill the tree.) After mulching, water tree again. 

  • The secret to watering is to water thoroughly each time. Bring a hose to the berm and let it trickle soak very slowly for 40-60 minutes. The idea is to water deeply, encouraging roots to grow deeper. Do not water again until the root ball is fairly dry. It is better to slightly underwater than to overwater.

  • Start off with two deep soakings a week when the weather is warm or hot. Increase the number of days between deep soakings as the tree becomes rooted in. Watch the weather and adjust watering accordingly.

  • Your goal is to “wean” your trees/shrubs off of depending on you for water as opposed to natural rainfall. The advantage to fall planting is that very little supplemental watering is needed during the fall, winter, and early spring. Your fall palnted trees and shrubs should be well rooted by summer heat time.

5. Prevent weed eater damage around base of the tree/shrub by keeping grass cleared away from the trunk or by using a rubber “tree boot”. Most trees do not need staking, but if you are planting on a slope or a particular area where your tree would be exposed to high winds, loosely stake new trees for 6-12 months to prevent damage. Trees should be able to sway fairly naturally while staked. Shrubs should not need staking. Remove stakes after one year.

6. Your tree or shrub does not need to be fertilized the first 6 months. Fertilize your trees and shrubs in early spring and early fall with a tree/shrub fertilizer. Trees in the legume family, like Mt. Laurels, Mesquites and Acacias need minimal fertilizer after planting. For more info on planting trees and shrubs correctly, plus mulching and watering, check out “When it comes to planting trees, don’t dig too deep.”

Now that you’ve got your guide, go get to planting!

    ~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy