Planting Trees

Tree Selection and Planting

Many trees planted each year by well-meaning homeowners and community workers will never flourish because they are hopelessly unsuited for the conditions in which they are placed. Before rushing in to plant just any available trees, do enough research and planning to ensure success.

Factors to Consider

  • Plant hardiness zone and heat tolerance
  • Native plant species vs. non-native plant species
  • Planting location and surroundings
  • Microclimates
  • Desired tree function
  • Season of planting

Taking a bit of time to plan before putting a tree in the ground will save money and headaches in the future. When choosing a tree, make sure to do a complete site evaluation to understand the conditions and ensure the best tree for the site chosen.

When to Plant

It is best to plant while the trees are dormant in late fall, winter, or early spring.

Deciduous trees planted in the fall, after the heat of summer diminishes, have several months to re-establish their root system and often emerge healthier the next spring than those transplanted in the heat of summer.

Evergreens should only be planted in late winter or early spring – but beware of foliage drying and “winter burn”. Unlike deciduous trees, evergreens hold onto their foliage throughout the winter, and to keep them green they need a lot of moisture. Bright sun and harsh winds in the winter months can cause the needles to lose moisture, and plant roots cannot take up enough water from the soil in frozen ground, which can cause dry foliage and “winter burn”. In newly planted trees where the root system is already too small for the canopy, this problem is made worse.

Planting Different Types of Nursery Stock

Trees may be purchased as bare-root, container-grown, or balled and burlapped. Correct planting and initial maintenance are essential for a long, healthy life for your tree. The most common cause of poor tree health is poor planting: too deep, too shallow, or in too small an area. The objective is to plant the tree so that the root flare at the bottom of the trunk is at (or slightly above) the surrounding ground level.

Planting Bare-root Trees

 

The most important thing to remember when choosing to plant bare-root trees is you must not let the roots dry out. Soak roots in water before, during and after planting to ensure good contact with the surrounding soil. Follow these steps for successful planting:

  • Gently prune away any dry, damaged, and broken roots using a sharp tool.
  • Dig a shallow planting hole no deeper than the roots will be when they are spread out.
  • Make the hole wider than the root system to allow for spreading.
  • When planting large bare-root stock, backfill with native soil while watering simultaneously, creating a slurry of mud to cover the roots.
Planting Containerized Trees

Trees sold in containers are the most common type of stock found in nurseries. When moving a tree, always pick it up by the container and NOT by the trunk!

  • Dig the planting hole the same depth as the tree is growing in the container. Caution: Sometimes growing medium surrounding the tree in the container is above the root flare and the excess should be removed.
  • Make the planting hole at least two to three times wider than the container.
  • Remove the tree from the container before planting.
  • Container-grown trees may show circling roots that should be straightened out to prevent later girdling and to encourage natural root growth. Trees are constantly growing and shedding the fine absorbing roots that are lost in this process, and root pruning will stimulate new root growth.
  • Place the tree in the planting hole and backfill with native soil.
  • Use your boot to gently press on the backfill soil to ensure good root to soil contact.
  • Water your newly planted tree.
Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees

Trees sold balled and burlapped are usually larger stock that instantly add impact to the area in which you are planting. They are quite heavy and require multiple hands to successfully plant them. When moving a tree, always pick it up by the root ball or binding strings and NOT by the trunk!

  • Dig the planting hole the same depth as the root ball. Caution: Sometimes growing medium surrounding the tree in the burlap is above the root flare and the excess should be removed.
  • Make the diameter of the planting hole at least two to three times wider than the root ball.
  • Remove all or as much packaging – string, wire basket and burlap – from the root ball as practical before planting the tree. Note: Do not worry if this causes deterioration of the root ball. The soil in the root ball is there to protect the roots during shipping.
  • Place the tree in the planting hole and backfill with native soil.
  • Use your boot to gently press on the backfill soil to ensure good root to soil contact and to rid the soil of air pockets.
  • Water your newly planted tree.

Additional Resources

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Acorn Identification
Acorn Identification

Information sheet provides descriptions of various species of acorns with links to detailed species information.

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Bark Types
Bark Types

Pictoral sheet showing the types of bark with photo samples of each.

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Basic Tree Identification
Basic Tree Identification

By Ellen Powell, Conservation Education Coordinator – Presentation reviews the basics of tree identification.

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Forestry topic information sheet provides information about best practices to be used in establishing Eastern white pine to encourage the best possible survival.

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Common Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of Virginia
Common Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of VirginiaP00027

Identification book is a favorite of teachers, Scout leaders and outdoor enthusiasts. Book features descriptions, line drawings and an identification key to the most common native Virginia shrubs and woody vines. It also contains hints for effective plant identification, invasive species threats, and more. Printed copies available for sale.

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Common Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of Virginia (2-page-spread)
Common Native Shrubs and Woody Vines of Virginia (2-page-spread)P00027

Identification book is a favorite of teachers, Scout leaders and outdoor enthusiasts. Book features descriptions, line drawings and an identification key to the most common native Virginia shrubs and woody vines. It also contains hints for effective plant identification, invasive species threats, and more. Printed copies available for sale.

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Common Native Trees of Virginia
Common Native Trees of VirginiaP00026

Identification book is a favorite of teachers, Scout leaders and outdoor enthusiasts. Book features descriptions, line drawings, and an identification key to the most common native Virginia trees. It also contains hints for effective shrub identification, invasive species threats, and more. Printed copies available for sale.

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Common Native Trees of Virginia (2-page spreads)
Common Native Trees of Virginia (2-page spreads)P00026

Identification book is a favorite of teachers, Scout leaders and outdoor enthusiasts. Book features descriptions, line drawings, and an identification key to the most common native Virginia trees. It also contains hints for effective shrub identification, invasive species threats, and more. Printed copies available for sale.

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Community Tree Planting During COVID-19
Community Tree Planting During COVID-19FT0054

Forestry topic information sheet provides information about safely holding community tree planting events during the COVID-19 pandemic, including guidance for planning, supplies, and more.

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Environmental Quality Incentives Cost-Share Program - Project Success Stories
Environmental Quality Incentives Cost-Share Program – Project Success StoriesFT0009

Forestry topic information sheet provides “success stories” portraying real-life experiences of Virginia forest landowners who have used Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) cost-share assistance to accomplish sustainable forest management activities. The EQIP program can improve a forest landowner’s “return on investment” by covering a percent of the costs associated with sustainably managing forest stands – planting trees, controlling invasive plant species and improving wildlife habitat. Printed copies available.

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Facts About Low-Density Plantings of Loblolly Pine - Advantages of Planting Fewer Trees Per Acre
Facts About Low-Density Plantings of Loblolly Pine – Advantages of Planting Fewer Trees Per AcreFT0003

Forestry topic information sheet provides guidance to landowners about low-density planting for loblolly pine, including forest health, thinnings, wood quality, and return on investment.

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Hardwood Planting Guide
Hardwood Planting GuideP00137

Brochure illustrates and explains proper planting techniques for planting bare-root hardwood seedlings. Printed copies available.

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How To Kill A Tree
How To Kill A Tree

Poster demonstrates the most common mistakes made that negatively impact tree health. Printed copies available.

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Pine Planting Guide
Pine Planting GuideP00117

Brochure illustrates and explains proper planting techniques for planting bare-root pine seedlings. Printed copies available.

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Planting Instructions for Your Loblolly Pine Seedling Plug - Tips for Success
Planting Instructions for Your Loblolly Pine Seedling Plug – Tips for SuccessFT0030

Forestry topic information sheet provides instructions for proper planting of a loblolly pine seedling plug.

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Property Mulching Techniques
Property Mulching Techniques

Publication explains proper mulching techniques, including type, amount, and method.

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Reforesting Cutover Timberland - Pine… A Good Investment
Reforesting Cutover Timberland – Pine… A Good InvestmentFT0004

Forestry topic information sheet provides guidance to landowners about reforesting their cutover timberland, including planning, site preparation, planting, and checking survival. Printed copies available.

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Seedling Price Guide
Seedling Price GuideP00139

Brochure provides a simple listing of seedling species available for sale at our state Nurseries and current pricing. For more detailed species information, see our Web Store. Customers can order on-line at our Web Store or by mail with the included order form. Printed copies available.

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Tree Owner's Manual for the Northeastern and Midwestern United States
Tree Owner’s Manual for the Northeastern and Midwestern United StatesNA-FR-04-07

Manual provides guidance about proper tree care from planting a tree to maintenance and care through the life of the tree.

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Contact Us

For more information or questions about urban tree planting, e-mail us or use our contact form.

For more information or questions about planting bare-root seedlings from our nurseries, e-mail us or use our contact form.