How to Plant a Tree

Spring in Tehachapi is the perfect time to get out in your garden or landscape and plant a tree or two. But did you know that many trees struggle to get established or even die after the second year if not properly planted? So here are Anna's Ten Steps to help make all your landscaping projects a success!

Expose Flare Roots

The trunk flare is the point where the roots spread away from the trunk. If you can’t see them you may have to remove some soil from the root ball as It’s important to expose the trunk flare and tops of the flare roots so that you can determine the proper planting depth.

Dig a broad, shallow hole.

Three times the width of the container or root ball is ideal and go no deeper than the measurement from the root flare to the bottom of the root ball.  This broad area of loosened soil makes it easier for the roots of the tree to spread out during those critical first months of growth. 

Remove plastic container. 

Containerized trees are often root bound so carefully cut through any circling roots at the base of the root ball. This will allow the roots to expand easily outward and help the tree get established faster.

Protect from gophers.

Gophers kill many ornamental trees every year in the Tehachapi Mountains! So place the tree in a wire basket to protect it from these rodents.  

Place the tree in hole. 

Check again that the planting hole has been dug to the proper depth. Backfill if necessary and remember it is better to plant the tree a little high keeping the flare roots at or slightly above the grade of the surrounding soil. 

Straighten the tree. 

One person should hold the tree, and another person look at it from several vantage points to confirm that the tree is straight. 

Amend the soil. 

Eyeball the amount of soil you removed when digging the hole and add about one-third that amount of compost to the soil you are going to use to backfill. Mix it together thoroughly. Remember, not all compost is created equally so check with your nursery for what works best for your particular soil and tree type. 

Backfill gently but firmly. 

Fill the hole one-third with the amended soil and tamp it down firmly without disturbing the root ball. Water a little at this point to make sure there are no air pockets and check for settling. Fill the remainder of the hole, taking care to gently pack the soil as you go.

Stake the tree.

In Tehachapi this is a general rule. It is the rare planting site that is not in the wind at some point in the year, so staking is a good idea. Use two stakes in conjunction with a wide, flexible tie material on the lower half of the tree. After one year remove the stakes unless in area of relentless wind. 

Mulch the base. 

Mulch is a two to four inch layer of organic matter that conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and moderates soil temperatures. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk as mulch piled up at the base of the tree creates a moist environment where disease and insects can multiply.