Plant Care Resources

How to Plant Trees

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Before You Plant A Tree

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.


Prepare the Planting Site

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.


Tree Planting Tips for Plants in Containers

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.


Tree Planting Tips for Balled and Burlapped Plants

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.


How to Plant a Tree

Use two opposing, flexible ties—when staking is necessary

Keep mulch 1 to 2 inches back from the 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

Follow the procedure for container plants.


More Helpful Tips

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.