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How to Plant and Care for your Tree or Shrub

Watch a Shockwave animation about how to plant a tree.

1) Choose the right tree for the right location 
We recommend planting trees native to southwestern Ontario. Follow this list of native trees to help choose the right tree. Note the sunlight conditions of your location and match these to the tree or shrub's needs.  Choose a location that allows the tree or shrub to grow to its full dimensions. Avoid overhanging wires. The best time to plant a tree is early spring or late fall, when the tree is dormant, but trees can be planted throughout the summer if they are well cared-for following planting.

2) Dig a hole

Dig a jagged hole 3 times the diameter of the root ball or container and the same depth as the root ball or container. Dig an "ugly hole", that is, one that is not smooth on the sides. Also, raise the bottom of the hole slightly higher than the surrounding area. This allows water to disperse, reducing the possibility of water pooling in the planting zone.


3) Place tree and cover
Carefully remove the plant from the container - avoid pulling by the trunk. Once removed from the container, check the roots. If the roots are tightly compressed or 'potbound', use your fingers or a blunt instrument (to minimize root tearing) to carefully tease the fine roots away from the tight mass and then spread the roots prior to planting. Seat the plant in the hole and back-fill the original soil. Mix in compost if you wish. Fill hole only to the soil level of the original container. Compress soil gently using your hands (don't stomp it).

4) Water your trees, especially newly planted trees.
Like all plants, trees need regular water. Newly planted trees that are trying to establish themselves and recover from the shock of being transplanted are especially susceptible to drought conditions. Watering a tree slowly and deeply is best. One easy way to do this is to turn a hose on very low and leave it at the base of the tree for an hour or so, or use a soaker hose coiled around the "drip line" of the tree. Another way is to drill holes in the base of a 20 liter bucket. Fill the bucket and walk away, allowing the water to drain slowly into the soil. ReForest London uses tree watering tubes for some of its trees. Remember to follow the City of London's water use restrictions when watering your trees. (During June-July-August, even numbered addresses may water lawns/gardens/ wash cars on even numbered days. Odd numbered addresses on odd numbered days.)

5) Keep the weed whacker and lawn mower away from the base of your trees.
One of a trees worst enemies is a weed whacker, or whipper snipper. These machines can easily remove the bark from the base of the tree, especially newer trees with more tender bark. The tree's bark protects the tree from insects and disease, but the layer just beneath the bark, the cambiun, is what transports water and nutrients up to the branches and leaves. Exposing this layer damages the tree, girdling it and making it more likely to die. Often a girdled tree dies over a period of several years. Remember not to run into your tree with a lawn mower either.

6) Mulch your trees.
Keep your trees mulched with about 2-4 inches deep of mulch and about a half-meter around your tree. The mulch helps to keep weeds and grass from growing around the tree, retains moisture, and keeps lawn mowers and weed whackers from the tree. The best way to mulch a newly planted tree is to create a donut shape with the mulch, keeping the mulch from touching the base of the tree. You can also use a plastic O-ring to protect the tree from weed whackers and rodents. Just be sure to remove it when the tree is larger so it doesn't damage the bark.


7) Use care when staking your trees.
There is debate about whether staking a tree is necessary at all. However, if you choose to stake a tree, be sure to do it properly. Iimproperly staking a tree can actually damage it. To properly stake a tree, place two stakes about 1/2 meter on either side of the base of the tree. The stakes should be about 6 feet tall, and should be pounded into the ground a least a foot. Wood or metal stakes can be used. Use twine or wire covered in a plastic hose to attach the tree to the stake below the first branches. Using plain twine or wire can dig into the tree and damage the bark. Periodically check the ties to ensure that they are not damaging the tree. After a year or two, remove the stakes.

8) Prune your tree, if neccesary.
See two related articles:
Pruning basics
Pruning methods

There are a few more tree care tips on our How to kill a tree page