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How to Plant Trees

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  • Choose plants that are hardy to your area: Chicago is in USDA zone 5 (-20°).
  • Select the appropriate site for your plant based on sunlight, soil, and moisture.
  • Be sure your space is large enough for the plant at maturity. Check for overhead power lines.
  • Check drainage. More plants die from excessive wetness than from lack of water.
  • The planting hole should be 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball/container.
  • Don’t dig the hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball/container. 
  • Center the plant in the planting hole. Keep it straight with the branches pointing in the direction you want them to grow.
  • Remove the plant from the container and remove dead or injured roots using sharp pruners.
  • Backfill the planting hole, gently filling around roots.
  • Water well. A rule of thumb is 1 inch of water per week during the growing season, either by gentle rainfall or watering.
  • Avoid fertilizing until the root system is re-established.
  • Place a 4″ layer of composted organic mulch (wood chips, leaves, etc.) around the tree/shrub.
  • Once the plant is in place, remove twine and cut away as much burlap as possible. If the plant is in a wire basket, remove as much wire as possible.
  • Follow the procedure for container plants (above).
  • Use two opposing, flexible ties—when staking is necessary
  • Keep mulch 1 to 2 inches back from the trunk
  • Trunk flare
  • 2– to 4–inch layer of mulch
  • Gently pack backfill, using water to settle soil around the root ball
  • Cut burlap and rope away from top third of root ball
  • Set ball on firmly packed soil to prevent settling
  • The Arboretum’s Selecting and Planting Trees Guide can help you pick a tree to plant that will thrive in our region and serve as a living monument to your Arbor Day observance.
  • Municipalities and non-profit organizations may purchase trees or seedlings through certain wholesale nurseries.
  • Be sure to call J.U.L.I.E. at 811 before you dig to locate underground utilities.
  • Find an arborist in your community through the Illinois Arborist Association to help with the details of the tree planting.
  • Be sure to care for your tree by keeping it carefully watered and mulched. 
  • For more assistance, contact the Arboretum’s Plant Clinic