Planting your tree

How to plant your tree in the Forest of One

When to plant your tree

Before choosing a tree to plant, try to consider your specific soil and climate, and compare this to each variety’s optimum environment.

Trees are best planted when they are dormant and therefore less susceptible to damage; this is in the winter months between around November – March. Though container-grown trees can technically be planted into the ground at any time of the year, it is still recommended that they are planted in the winter/early spring months as they’ll need less watering to establish. Rootballed or bare-root trees (i.e. those that arrive without being in soil and are therefore ‘bare’) are only available in the autumn and winter when the tree is dormant. You should plant such trees as soon as possible after receiving them.

How to plant a tree

Typically, trees struggle where insufficient preparation causes them to have too little air and/or too much or too little moisture. To eliminate these risks as much as possible, we have some useful guidance on how to plant your tree into the ground.

  1. Dig a hole as deep as the rootball, but ideally at least twice as wide to give plenty of loose soil for roots to grow into.
  2. For soils that are waterlogged, choose tree varieties better suited to wet conditions. If this is a temporary issue in the plot, you could plant on a small mound, which will help drain excess moisture and prevent further saturation.
  3. For trees taken out of compact pots, water before releasing from the pots, and once out of the pot, tease out some of the roots or break the potted soil up with a fork before placing into the ground.
  4. Soak rootballed trees for around half an hour before planting them.
  5. When placing any tree into the ground, hold it such that the first part of the tree root is level with the ground’s surface; this ensures that sufficient air reaches the tree roots once the earth has been filled in (planting too deep is a common cause of tree death).
  6. Firm the earth around the tree base a little, being careful not to press down too hard as this could inhibit air circulation.
  7. Water generously around the newly planted tree.
  8. Fill in the earth around the tree, ensuring earth is filled between and around all the roots to prevent the formation of air pockets.
  9. If you are planting in clay or sandy soil, incorporating compost into the filled-in soil will improve its structure.
  10. A stake is usually only needed for larger trees or those that are ‘top-heavy’; smaller trees shouldn’t normally need staking.
  11. It may be necessary to add protection around the tree to prevent damage from deer, rabbit, voles or other small mammals; this could be with a tree spiral or wire guard for example.

Aftercare for your tree

Fertilizer

It isn’t considered necessary to add fertilizer when planting a tree. However, where the soil is particularly poor, you may wish to add a natural fertilizer such as manure or coffee ground as the tree is growing.

Watering

Even in the relatively cool and wet climate in the United Kingdom, a common problem with newly planted trees is damage caused by drought. Summer rain is unlikely to water the tree roots fully, and the earth below the surface may often be dry even if it appears to be sufficiently damp at first glance. Typically, you need to provide around 40 litres of water per tree per week. Do remember though, that overwatering is also dangerous for trees, as roots can rot and nutrition absorption be impaired.

To check whether more/less water is needed, dig down a little with a trowel, exposing the side of the rootball. If this is consistently dry, increase your watering, and conversely if it’s consistently saturated, then cut back a little.

Weeding and mulching

Depending on where you’ve planted your tree, grass, weeds and other plants around the base will intercept any rainfall or other water before it reaches the tree’s roots. For this reason, particularly where moisture is at a premium, the base should be kept free of any vegetation. Cut out an area around a metre across the base of the tree and try to keep this free of vegetation for at least the initial couple of years after planting.

Formative pruning

If there are any dead or misshapen branches, these are best corrected or pruned whilst the tree is still young. Remember to do this in the winter months when the tree is dormant. The process can mean removing or pruning competing leaders (main branches) and/or removing diseased or damaged wood.

Adjusting ties and removing stakes

If you’ve used a stake and ties initially to support the tree, make sure you inspect these regularly, especially when the tree is growing in spring through to the early autumn. Loosen ties if needed to allow for growing and to avoid stem constriction. Supports can be usually be removed after two or so years, when the tree’s roots should have grown sufficiently to secure and anchor the tree into the ground.