Tree planting tips

Planting native trees is not difficult. Here are some key points:


  • Pick a good tree for your location. Check that it will fit your site when it grows, and remember that roots grow and spread as well. For help making the choice, you can consult our tree choice "hotline."


  • Don’t add “better” soil. Native trees prefer local soils. 


  • Dig a hole twice the diameter of the roots. Spread the young tree’s roots and place it in the hole so the root crown is level with the surface. Add the soil back to the hole, a little at a time, watering as you go to settle the soil around the roots. 


  • Mulch lightly to control weeds, but don’t pile mulch up to the tree trunk. Leave a gap between trunk and the mulch. 


  • During its first year, make sure the tree gets water regularly. The younger the tree, the easier the watering task.

    • Bare root seedlings: Add a gallon of water after planting. After that, no need to water unless we go over two weeks without rain.

    • Use 1 gallon of water per inch caliper to water every day for 4 weeks then every other day until established (meaning the roots have grown into the surrounding soil) – usually 1 year per inch caliper. See for more information on tree care and planting.(Watering is suspended once the leaves fall off, assuming normal rainfall.)

    • Do not water if the root ball is wet or saturated.

    • Water around the edge of the planting hole to encourage roots to reach for the water. Trees become established in 1 year for every 1 inch of tree caliper. In other words, a tree with a two inch trunk will take 2 years to establish! Saving on work is only one of the good reasons to buy smaller trees.


  • Fall is the best time to plant most trees, because fall is when most root growth happens. Spring and winter are okay as well (if the ground is not frozen.) Don't plant between May 15 and the end of September.

  • Plant when young - it takes one year per inch caliper (diameter at 6 inches above the ground) for trees to establish, and they will need watering that entire time. The smaller the tree, the less watering is needed. Smaller trees also transplant better. They are likely to need some pruning after they get established to direct their growth properly - read about it here, and be sure to make a note to yourself to do it at the proper time.\

  • Young trees may need protection from deer.


After getting established (one year for seedlings and very small saplings, two or three for larger trees), well chosen native trees require little or no care, because they are perfectly adapted to local conditions.


More details about native tree planting and maintenance can be found here on the Plant NOVA Natives website, and in the Fairfax County Tree Basics booklet.

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