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Planting Shade Trees

Successfully establishing a young tree in your yard starts with your planting site and method. Once a tree is established, it needs little assistance; but you’ll want to make sure you give your trees the best foundation possible.

Trees require fertile soil for good growth, so before you plant, check your soil nutrients and pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. Ideally, your soil pH should be 5.0-6.5. Steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.

NOTE: This is part 3 in a series of 9 articles. For a complete background on how to grow shade trees, we recommend starting from the beginning.

Planting Site

  • Plant your trees in a sunny location.
  • Spacing of your new tree will depend on the type of tree: it could be anywhere from 5 feet for a redbud tree to 60 feet for a maple tree.

Planting Steps

  • Before planting: soak tree roots in a tub or large trash can of water for one to two hours to keep its roots from drying while you dig. Do not soak more than six hours. DO NOT expose roots to freezing temperatures while planting.
  • Dig the hole deep and wide enough so the root system has plenty of room. (Keep the topsoil in a separate pile so you can put it in the bottom of the hole, where it’ll do the most good.)
  • Roots grow better in soil that’s been loosened, so mix in our Coco-Fiber Potting Medium into your pile of topsoil. You can also use dehydrated cow mature, garden compost or peat moss (up to 1/3 concentration).
  • Position the tree at the same depth as it grew in the nursery row or pot.
  • Fill the hole, putting the topsoil back in first. You can avoid creating air pockets by working the soil carefully around the roots and tamping down firmly.

Potted Trees

Stark trees that are grown and shipped in bottomless pots are part of our continuing quest for producing better and stronger trees for the home grower. By following these simple instructions, you will be assured of getting your young tree off to the best possible start.

  • Before planting: When your tree arrives, carefully take it out of the package, making sure not to damage any of the branches. The potted tree has been watered prior to shipment and should arrive moist, but it does need another drink when it arrives at your home. Be sure the container is moist clear through. If you can’t plant your tree immediately upon arrival, keep the pot moist until you can plant it and keep the tree in a sheltered location. DO NOT place your potted tree in a bucket of water. This could cause the roots to rot, and kill your tree.
  • For potted trees, the hole should be twice the size of the pot the tree was shipped in.
  • Your tree is ready for planting as soon as it arrives at your home. Then, simply grasp the sides of the container and carefully slide the tree out. The potting soil should remain intact around the tree’s roots. You will want to keep this soil with the tree and plant it, soil and all, into the prepared hole.
  • Fill the hole with soil and water lightly with a solution of Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer. (If planting in the fall, wait to fertilize until spring for best results.)

Additional Notes

The most important training you’ll be doing in the first few years is keeping the main trunk straight and strong. Most of the permanent branches will be formed in later years.

  • New trees often need staking the first year or two.
  • Unbranched “whip” trees should be pruned back one-third at planting time.
  • Large-size branched trees should be given some planting-time pruning. Remove some of the side branches, leaving only a few evenly balanced wide-angle branches. Remaining limbs should be pruned back by one-third to one-half.

One final point: Please be sure to remove the nametag from your tree. As the tree grows, this small piece of plastic can choke off its circulation, damaging or killing the tree. If you’d like to keep the tag on your tree, retie it loosely with soft twine.

NEXT: Soil Preparation for Shade Trees
Previous: Choosing a Location for Shade Trees