Planting & Tree Care

Tips for Planting and Caring for Trees

Select the Right Tree

Invasive plant species can do more harm than good, so Taking Root asks that you do not plant these or other invasive plant species:

  • ornamental pears (commonly called Callery pear; Pyrus calleryana and ‘Bradford’, ‘Aristocrat’, ‘Cleveland Select’ and all of its other cultivars)
  • tree of heaven
  • honeysuckle

Instead, please consider the many other species and selections that will thrive in our climate and soils, perform all the environmental services we hope for, and do not out-compete or replace native species in our greenspaces.

For information on specific tree species — including hardiness, soil, mature size, growth rate and other details — that can help you select the right tree for your needs, ask a Certified Arborist or an expert at your local garden center or nursery, or visit the Arbor Day website to browse tree species.

Search trees by name, bloom date, or color at PlantPlaces.

Plant Your New Tree Properly

Tree Planting Tips from the Arbor Day Foundation

  1. Dig the hole 2-3 times wider than the root ball and no deeper than the root flare (the wide area where the trunk joins the root system).
  2. For a balled and burlapped tree, remove all rope, burlap and metal wires from at least the top third of the root ball.
  3. For a container or bare root tree, spread the roots so they’re not wrapped around each other or the root flare.
  4. Backfill with existing un-amended soil and pack lightly.
  5. Water thoroughly.
  6. Cover with 2-3 inches of mulch, but don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk.
  7. Prune only broken branches, and remove all tags.
  8. Water your newly planted tree with 5 gallons of water per inch of trunk once a week during the first three growing seasons.

How to plant bare root trees (includes video)

How to plant containerized trees (includes video)

How to plant balled and burlapped trees (includes video)

Tree Placement for Special Situations Follow these guidelines for placing trees if any of these situations exist.

  • Under or near power lines Plant small trees (25 feet maximum at maturity) to avoid potentially hazardous situations
  • Near building foundations Plant small trees (25 feet maximum at maturity) or medium trees (25 to 40 feet at maturity) at least 10 feet away from walls. Plant large trees (40 feet or more at maturity) at least 15 feet from walls.
  • Near sidewalks or driveways, patios or pools, other hardscapes or fences Plant trees at least 5 feet away to avoid property damage from roots and provide adequate growing space
  • Near underground structures (sewer, gas, cable television, or sprinkler lines) Plant trees at least 5 feet away
Avoid Volcano-Mulching

Keep mulch away from tree trunks. Mulch that touches the tree trunk invites decay and pests and can kill the tree. The common effects of mulch heaped against a tree trunk include wood rot (likely to cause the tree’s death), girdling roots, and failure to develop a normal root flare (tree is less stable and more likely to fall during a storm).

Mulching is beneficial for trees when applied by the 3x3x3 rule:
– 3 inches of mulch
– 3 inches from the trunk
– in a circle at least 3 feet wide — so that wood chips, bark pieces, or other natural mulches form a flat donut with a tree in the center.
A mulched tree benefits from moisture retention (especially beneficial in warm weather), improved soil (as the mulch decomposes), better weed control and insulation against heat and cold.

This video shows proper mulching techniques.


Care for Your Mature Tree

Local Certified Arborists have these simple suggestions for taking care of your mature trees. If you have questions about tree care, you can contact a Certified Arborist or your local garden store or your county’s Cooperative Extension Office (provide the public with information from studies and cutting-edge research by Cooperative Extension Services at Ohio State University, University of Kentucky and Perdue University).

Remember the roots – Most of a tree’s roots are in the top 8 inches of soil. Excavation, trenching, and grading can damage roots and kill a mature tree.

Avoid any soil disturbance, contamination and compaction in the “Critical Root Zone” defined as a circle with 1.5 feet of radius for every inch of trunk diameter at 4.5 feet above the ground.

Even mature trees need mulch – Mulch protects the trunk and surface roots from mower damage, retains moisture and looks good too. A 3 foot radius or more is preferred, but never mulch more than 3 inches deep and don’t allow mulch to touch the trunk.

Water your trees – Yes, mature trees DO need water, especially in times of drought.
– Water infrequently but deeply by placing a slow running hose on the ground within the dripline (under the canopy) for several hours and moving it around to soak as many roots as possible.
– Or, make a small investment in a watering lance that can be inserted in several areas under the canopy a foot into the ground to deliver water directly to the root system, or consult with your local garden store about other deep watering tools. A few dollars more on your monthly water bill is cheaper than removing a tree if it dies.
– It’s better to give your trees a long soaking that benefits their deep roots than to water them with a lawn irrigation system that benefits turf and surface roots.

Watch for wind, ice or mechanical damage – You may want to consult a tree specialist or arborist if your tree acquires an injury.

Keep your trees free of climbing winter creeper and English ivy – Both of these vines weaken and can slowly kill your tree. If either is climbing your tree, remove the lower couple of feet with as little damage to the bark as possible and leave the rest of the vine to dehydrate and die, pull the vine’s roots from the ground from all around the tree base and monitor the newly cleared area for several years.

Employ a Certified Arborist to identify and remove dead or diseased limbs – These can fall and be a risk to you and your property and harbor destructive insects and diseases.

Improve the soil – The roots of mature trees in compacted, urban soils often can’t get the nutrients, water, and oxygen they need to sustain the crown. Mulching helps, but you can also ask an arborist to fertilize your tree, use growth regulators, perform core aeration, or use an air tool that “tills” in organic amendments, such as composts and biochars, without harming the roots.

Beware of the “fungus among us” – Many fungi (mushrooms) in the soil are beneficial, but when you see them growing out of a trunk or branch they’re a sign of decay and you should contact an arborist to inspect the situation.

Give your tree a check up – ISA Certified Arborists, members of the American Society of Consulting Arborists, and arborists with the ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualification all understand mature tree health, physiology, and structure and are great partners in caring for your valuable asset.

More information on caring for mature trees can be found at Trees are Good website.

More Tree-Care Tips

Proper tree care starts when you select a tree, and what you do to your tree in the first few years will affect its shape, strength and even its life span.

Step-by-Step Tips from the Arbor Day Foundation
Get your tree off to a good start and keep it healthy throughout its life

Tree Owner Information from Trees Are Good
Basic knowledge of proper tree care helps you understand the quality of care necessary for the health of your trees. An overview of tree care essentials is provided by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).

Find a Certified Arborist Near You
Proper tree care is an investment — well-cared for trees can add considerable value to your property. Certified Arborists are knowledgeable in tree care through experience and by passing a comprehensive examination developed by some of the nation’s leading tree care experts. How to find an arborist in your area.

Roadside trees reduce nearby indoor air pollution by more than 50%.

Environmental Science & Technology, 2013

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