How to Plant a Tree

Proper planning and planting techniques are some of the most important ways we can contribute to a tree’s survival. The following information can help ensure that trees are planted with the highest chances of success in their home. A healthy tree brings years of enjoyment and benefits to your yard and to the environment, so it’s important to treat them with care and consideration. 

Make a Plan

Having a plan in place will help ensure that your selected location is appropriate for your species of tree, and it will also ensure that there are no unexpected pipes or obstructions.

Choose the Right Location

Locate the best place or places to plant trees in your yard. Avoid planting directly under overhead wires. If you can’t avoid them, plant trees that remain small in maturity. Provide space for the tree to grow to its full dimensions. Plant at least 3 metres from buildings and at least 1 metre from driveways and sidewalks. Avoid planting in a space where you may build a deck or some other structure in the future.

Assess the Soil Type/Moisture/Light

Take note of the soil type (clay, sand, loam) and the moisture available in your planting location. Is the spot sunny, shady or both? Make sure that the species you choose for your yard is suitable for your yard’s conditions.

Plant During the Appropriate Season

The best time to plant a tree is in the early spring or late fall, but trees can be planted throughout the summer as long as you water them regularly. Evergreens should be planted in the spring.

Call Ahead

By law, you must contact Ontario One-Call (, 1-800-400-2255) at least one week prior to digging anywhere. This free service will check and mark your site for any underground utilities. Ensure you have a safe dig!

Buy the Right Species

Where you purchase and what you purchase can dictate how well your tree thrives in certain environments. Additionally, if you purchase invasive tree species, this may actually negatively impact the ecosystem that it is in.


We recommend planting native trees. Native trees have grown in this climate for thousands of years and are better adapted to the stresses of our environment. They also support native ecosystems and biodiversity. Check out our Tree & Shrub Species for more information about selecting the right native tree species.


Purchase your tree from a reputable and local nursery with knowledgeable staff. Ask for native trees grown from local seed stock.


Select a tree with a well-developed leader (main stem) and straight trunk with no major splits or scars. Branches should be evenly distributed. Look for flexible branches that show growth from the previous year, and look for plump buds or healthy leaves. If in a pot, check to make sure the plant has a good number of roots but has not become overly pot-bound.

Planting your Tree

The size and stage of life of your tree will dictate how you approach planting your tree.


Seedlings are small trees, usually less than 15 cm tall. They come in small pots or as plugs wrapped in plastic or burlap. It is very important that you plant these trees right away, as the plugs can dry out very quickly. Dig a small hole twice as wide as the pot or plug. Plant the seedling only as deep as the level of the soil. Roots should not be exposed. You may want to protect seedlings with a tomato cage – this will keep pets, children and lawn equipment from crushing them.


Saplings are a bit larger, usually sold in 4 litre pots. Remove any sod and then dig a hole twice as wide as the container and about the same depth. You can check to ensure your hole is the correct depth by placing the tree in the hole and lining up the soil level in the container with the ground level. Carefully remove the pot – avoid pulling on the trunk. Once removed from the container, check the roots. If the roots are tightly compressed or pot-bound, use your fingers to carefully tease the fine roots away from the tight mass and then spread the roots. Seat the plant in the hole and back-fill the original soil. Mix in some compost if you wish. Fill the hole only to the soil level of the original container. Compress soil gently using your hands.

Large Tree

Trees can also come in wire baskets and burlap. These should be planted as above, but you do not need to remove the wire basket. The basket helps keep the root ball intact as you plant the tree. Once the tree is settled into the hole, cut back as much of the burlap as you can and fold back the wire loops so they don’t stick out of the ground. Fill in the hole, packing and watering as you backfill to allow the soil to settle.

Caring for your Tree

Once your tree is planted, it is important to make sure that you continue to take care of it, especially in its first few years of trying to establish itself.


Surround your tree with a thick ring of mulch. The mulch should not touch the tree, as it can rot the bark and kill the tree. Use at least 10 cm of mulch – mulch keeps moisture in and discourages weeds. Add new mulch each season as needed.


The most important gift you can give to a new tree is water. Like all plants, trees need water regularly. Newly planted trees are especially susceptible to dry conditions due to the shock of being transplanted. Watering a tree slowly and deeply is best. One way to do this is to turn a hose on very low and leave it at the base of the tree for 30-60 minutes. You can also use a soaker hose coiled around the drip line of the tree. Another way is to drill 2-3 (3/8 inch holes or less) in the base of a 20 litre (5 gallon) bucket. Water will drain slowly into the soil. Please view more watering instructions on our How to Water a Tree page.


New trees need our protection. Keep weed trimmers and lawnmowers at least a metre away from the base of the tree. Don’t allow children to play on the branches until they are well-established and able to withstand weight. Do not trim a tree without researching tree trimming methods, and never cut the leader off the top of the tree (also called “topping” or “pollarding”).