Everything You Wanted To Know About Planting A Tree But Forgot To Ask

Ilona Erwin

Two Scenarios

There are two ways Gardeners usually begin planting their trees… either we are out in the yard and think, “I’d like (something) there, or (something) here” or we went to a sale at the garden center and found a wonderful specimen that we decided we just had to buy.

Could this describe you? I know I found myself in both those scenarios.

But after having decided what we want, how do we streamline that process of planting the right tree in the right spot and not live to regret it? (Or leave the next owner scratching their heads as to why someone would put that tree in such a spot).

And that is just for starters… what about planting, and pruning, and feeding your valuable new purchases? This guide is a cheatsheet to help you gain expertise on your home property. Limited to newly planted trees, much of the guide is appropriate for established trees, as well.

What You Forgot about Planning and Planting

Fall is a good time for planting

  1. Don’t have a plan ? The number one reason to make one and have it handy is so you know where to plant that tree.
    5 Point Plan
  2. A garden journal complete with a graphed drawing of the property and a list of trees to feature could be included in your pages. Great reference to have when plant shopping.
  3. Too late for that, this time around? Are you starting from the desire for a new tree in a certain spot, one that gives  a certain effect or benefit? Time to draw up a list of trees that fulfill those requirements.
    Positioning your treeRequirements to know:

    • You will need to know the pH of your soil,
    • whether the spot is windy or protected,
    • how much space to accommodate that tree’s mature size,
    • your hardiness zone,
    • and whether your garden conditions are dry or moist in that spot.

    Then go to a tree book or garden encyclopedia (or search online if you are a savvy searcher) for your list of likely candidates. After you compile a list of trees for the spot, see if they are available through your nursery, or in a reputable catalog.
    Selecting your tree
    Found everything? You are ready for the next step of planting.

  4. In the reverse of that situation, a gardener often takes a fancy to a particular tree that is wanted in a garden plan. Now, just where does the garden have the best situation? Situating the tree without rearranging too many other plants or creating unwanted problems from this particular tree needs in the future? Much thinking is necessary; along with a previous knowledge of the garden conditions (see above, point 2). Don’t take too much time as the tree is probably in the garage, waiting to be planted.
  5. The place and the specific tree have met and aligned their destiny, now it is up to you to plant the tree according to best method in the appointed spot.
    Planting your tree
  6. You planted the tree well, it seems to be settling in, now it is up to the gardener to make sure it stays well watered throughout the growing season. Deep drenching drinks if the weather is dry for extended times. A newly planted tree doesn’t yet have its roots deeply embedded in the earth- if it is dry they may not have sufficient moisture to support the life of the new tree.
  7. The first year a tree is planted it could use the protection and moisture retention of a much. Keep it mulched, but don’t allow it to become a cone around the base of the tree, allow the tree and the root flare to have a little breathing room.
  8. All woody plants seem to benefit from watering right before they go into winter dormancy. You remembered not to fertilize too late in the season, right? Not after July 24th in Ohio’s zone 5; you don’t want tender growth shooting out only to become winter damaged.
  9. If your tree is evergreen, and there is a lot of snow and ice, it may be a good idea to lightly brush the heavy snow from the branches so they don’t break off. Mulch the new root system with some additional much for the winter, remember not to crowd the trunk.
  10. In the first spring after planting, the following year, check for winter damage, remove any winter-killed twig and branches, late winter-early spring is usually a good time to do whatever shaping and pruning is desired for the tree. Fertilize to get the tree a good start. Perhaps place visual markers to keep the mower from coming too close.
  11. You’ve done a good job, enjoy your beautiful tree!


What You Forgot to Ask about Pruning

  • When you first plant a tree, you should prune a bit off. I know it kills you- you bought the tree because it was a little bigger than the rest, and it looks like it couldn’t dare lose an inch. But trim it off anyway. The roots will benefit and they will reward you with those inches lost and much more.While you are at it be sure to prune off wayward branches and broken ones…judiciously, all very judiciously.
  • Basic Pruning Truths:
    • Pruning shapes the tree and strengthens the roots
    • It removes dead and diseased branches that might otherwise attract a problem.(Pests and more disease)
    • For fruit, it is necessary for good production
    • Keeps the tree healthy by promoting good air circulation and removing crossed branches that may cause damage.
  • What about some of the more esoteric arts of pruning a tree? Thought to ask about that? I know I don’t think about it much, at least until I take a look at some of the groomed gardens of England or Europe.

    Topiary is the art of pruning for artistic effect
    Make a topiary

What You Forgot to Ask about Fertilizing

tree fertilizer

Fertilizing a young, established tree

Next to proper planting and pruning, fertilizing comes next in a list of things we forget to ask about when caring for trees. Many of us are “guilty” of benign neglect, and normally that is not bad at all. On the other hand watch out for too much of a good thing.

Good Tree Tips To Know

  • It is very important to not fertilize woody plants after July in most of the USA. Trees need to enter dormancy for winter, and fertilizing interferes with this natural process. Late feeding can leave woody plants subject to injuring from cold.
  • When is a good time to feed them? Late April or early May, as growth is beginning, or late fall once dormant (leaves have fallen).
  • As a rule, don’t fertilize newly planted trees. Regular feeding solutions are too strong and may burn roots. Instead use a “transplanting” solution, specially formulated to give new roots a boost, is anything.Dr. Earth Organic 2 Transplant Starter Fertilizer, 12-Pound
  • Fertilizers with herbicides can damage trees. Don’t use.
  • Best to use slow release, or plant food formulated specifically for trees.


For detailed chemical information, timing, and methods, the University of Minnesota Extension Factsheet is recommended reading.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.