Proper Tree Planting & Care

Bradford Pear Bounty sponsored by Clemson Extension, South carolina forestry commission and the city of Clemson

How to plant a tree

  1. Gently remove tree from container. Tap sides & bottom of container and gently slide tree from container. Handle carefully, supporting root ball and trunk. To avoid serious damage, do not yank or pull tree by trunk.
  2. Locate the “root flare.” (Topmost root, where the trunk meets the roots). Gently remove excess soil on the surface until the root flare is visible.
  3. Correct circling & girdling roots. Remove girdling and correct circling roots to encourage healthy root development, lateral expansion, and stability in the landscape.
    1. Cut girdling roots using hand pruners, pruning saws, or loppers. This will help prevent interference with trunk and tree death and stability issues.
    2. Correct excessive circling roots to encourage healthy root development, lateral expansion, and avoid a “root bound” condition. Tease out the roots along the outer edges of the root ball.
  4. Determine planting hole depth and adjust if necessary. Planting at the proper depth is critical to health and survival. Planting slightly shallow (2 inches above grade) will position the roots closer to the surface to locate moisture, nutrients and oxygen easier
    1. Set tree in middle of hole with root flare above surface and visible: If root flare sits below ground, add soil at bottom of hole to prevent deep-planting.
      • If root collar sits higher than 2 inches above grade, remove additional soil at bottom.
  5. Place tree in planting hole in an upright position.
    1. Be sure tree is in an upright position and is not leaning.
    2. View tree from different angles; ask others to help you determine if centered and straight.
  6. Backfill planting hole with soil, gently but firmly.
    1. Backfill with soil gently and firmly tamp out air pockets and prevent roots from drying out.  Adding compost to the top 2-3 inches of soil will enrich the planting hole with healthy nutrients and increase water-holding capacity (especially important during summer). Encourages beneficial fungi, bacteria and micro-organisms.
    2. Stabilize the root ball by packing soil around the base.
  7. Remove all labels, tags, ties, trunk wrap and other supporting materials. These materials may interfere with proper development and growth.
  8. Prune off only broken/damaged or crossing/rubbing branches. Use hand-pruning shears to remove defective branches. Pruning to improve structure should not be done until a minimum of three years post-transplanting. Delaying additional pruning will help minimize stress at time of planting and allow the tree adequate time adjust to new site, develop additional roots and trunk wood as well as increase stability.
    1. Make cuts just outside forks (nodes), preserving branch collar (swollen area).
    2. Avoiding cutting “flush” with the stem.
    3. Do not leave branch stubs.
  9. Mulch your tree with a 3-4” depth organic mulch over roots out to dripline of tree (outer edge of branches/crown). This needs to be replenished every year. Mulch will help

    • conserve moisture for roots,

    • reduce competition of weeds and turfgrass with tree roots (they often outcompete!),

    • provide a layer of nutrients to cycle back into soils (organic matter that is often lacking in urban areas) and

    • keep string trimmers & mowers at bay (to avoid root/trunk damage).

Download How to Plant a Tree (PDF, 287kb) from the South Carolina Foresty Commission

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Mulch

Planting Trees Correctly

Principles and Practices for Pruning Trees

Clemson Extension's Home & Garden Information Center (HGIC) provides research-based information on landscaping, gardening, plant health, household pests, food safety & preservation, and nutrition, physical activity & health. HGIC is designed to complement Clemson’s network of professionals and volunteers by answering the routine types of calls and thereby freeing agents to deal with commercial agriculture/horticulture questions and conduct proactive programming to larger audiences.