The Do’s and Don’ts of Tree Planting
Adapted from Cuyahoga Soil & Water Conservation District

Trees are critical for our health, economy, and environment. A healthy forest canopy reduces flooding, absorbs stormwater, interrupts runoff, and is essential for clean water, healthy streams, rivers, wetlands, and lakes. Trees help reduce energy costs when strategically planted around a home, can increase property value, and reduce water costs.

When you are planting a tree in your yard, here are some things you should know:


  1.  Pull the soil away from the trunk until you see the top of the biggest root. Measure the depth from the bottom of the flare to the base of the roots.
  2. Dig the hole three times as wide, but only as deep as the root ball.
  3. Put the tree in the hole and lay a shovel handle across the hole and root ball to check depth. Add an inch to allow for settling.
  4. Make sure that the root flare (think “ankle and top of a foot”) shows above ground level. Planting high is better than planting too low.
  5. Cut away and REMOVE the burlap, twine and wire basket while the tree is in the hole. All of it. Spread the roots out. If the tree’s in a container, cut away the container and spread any circling roots out.
  6. Make sure the tree is straight from all sides, and backfill with a mix of mostly the old soil and some new composted soil. Pack it down with your feet. Don’t jump.
  7. Stake the tree, only if it’s unstable or in a windy location, with a tall stake, and connect it to the tree with paper masking tape. By the time the tape decays, the tree won’t need it anymore.
  8. Water with 5 gallons for good measure (15 gallons for a 2″ caliper tree). Water this much every week for the first two years.


tree planting example

  1. Don’t trust that the way it is in the container or burlapped ball is at the right depth.
  2. Don’t dig too deep.
  3. Don’t be stingy. Roots need room to grow.
  4. Don’t plant too deep and don’t bury the root flare. Planting too deep is the fastest way to kill a new tree.
  5. Don’t leave any packaging on the root ball or in the hole.


Adapted from