Fall is for Tree Planting!—How to Plant a Tree

three volunteers planting a tree in a park

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Autumn is the optimal time to plant trees. As mundane as it may seem compared to solar panels and electric cars, planting trees is one of THE most powerful and affordable ways to make a difference for the health of the environment and the beauty of your neighborhood. And planting trees is a fun and educational activity to do with kids and community, too. Here’s why…

Why We Should Plant Trees

As we learned in third grade biology, trees are essential to life. They create the very air we breathe and filter air pollution.

What you may not know is that trees also build soil and help soak up stormwater before it can create a flood, and they offer energy-saving shade that reduces global warming and creates habitat for thousands of different species. Trees also help to reduce ozone levels in urban areas.

Most importantly, trees sequester carbon, helping to remove carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the air, which cools the earth. In fact, a mature canopy tree absorbs enough carbon and releases enough oxygen to sustain two human beings!

We Cut Trees Faster Than We Can Regrow Them

Despite their importance to life as we know it, humans have cut down half of all the trees on the planet so far. Every year we cut down over 50,000 square miles of forest worldwide for paper, agriculture, building materials and fuel. That’s an area the size of the state of Alabama! Every year!

The carbon release from deforestation accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the four to five billion tons of carbon accumulating every year in the atmosphere from human activities.

Much of this wouldn’t be necessary if we reduced, reused and recycled more, cultivated hemp for fuel and fiber, and used sustainable and recycled materials in all our buildings.

But until this changes, we need to put the trees back any way we can, as fast as we can!

Related: 30 Ways to Use Less Paper

Have a Tree Planted for You

children planting trees

There are many local, national and international organizations that plant trees, and because planting trees costs relatively little, donating to these organizations can make a big difference.

You can also have trees planted specifically to offset your personal carbon emissions from airplane or car travel. These organizations can help you out:

Also check with your local environmental or parks department for tree planting organizations and events in your community.

Plant a Tree to Improve Your Property

While supporting tree planting organizations is a great way to be eco-friendly, you can also make a difference in your community by planting trees on your own property.

A properly-planted, mature shade tree on the south or west side of your house or business can save you up to 15% on your summer air conditioning bills. That same tree will also help soak up stormwater in the neighborhood, and contribute habitat for local wildlife. If you plant a fruit or nut tree, you get food as an added bonus!

Trees are not only good for the environment, but good tree cover can increase property values by 7–20 percent in residential areas and 18–25 percent for building lots. Quality landscapes with healthy trees can increase retail spending from 9–12 percent.

You really can’t go wrong by planting trees!

How to Plant a Tree

The Arbor Day Foundation has a great video series on how to properly plant a tree. Here are some important things to consider when planting trees.

When to Plant Trees

Autumn (or September through November in the Northern hemisphere) is the ideal time for planting trees, shrubs and perennials because it allows the roots to become established before the ground freezes and winter sets in. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall are also better equipped to deal with heat, pests and drought the following season.

Another great reason to plant your trees and shrubs in the fall is so you can select them by the fall colors they produce.

Avoid planting broad leaved evergreens like rhododendrons, azaleas, boxwoods and hollies in the fall, because they are not likely to survive winter cold and wind so soon after planting. However, virtually all other temperate shade trees, ornamental/fruit trees, and perennials are perfect for planting in the fall, before the soil gets too cold too dig.

Choose the Right Tree for the Location

Depending on your property’s conditions, one species of tree may be a better choice than another. You will need to consider your tree’s:

  • height and spread at maturity (20 years),
  • growth and rooting habits,
  • watering and maintenance needs,
  • susceptibility to disease (e.g. pine bark beetles, chestnut blight, etc.),
  • privacy and shade,
  • flowers and fruit/nuts/seeds,
  • and color (spring and fall).

Since your tree could theoretically live for many decades, consider how it’s mature size, water needs and growth habit will both impact and be affected by the area around it.

For example, oak trees like a certain degree of acidity in the soil, while willow trees love excessively moist soil. Some trees are fragile and easily drop branches, like Bradford pears or eucalyptus, or make a mess, like gingkos or mulberries. Others are invasive and shouldn’t be planted in certain countries, like Norway maple, Ailanthus (Chinese sumac), or Paulownia (Princess Tree).

Choose a Forever Location

A healthy tree’s root system is just as wide as its canopy, so be sure to plant your tree in a location far enough from your house to accommodate both the mature breadth of the tree branches and the mature spread of the tree roots.

Especially consider where your electrical, cable, water and sewer lines are in your yard in relation to your tree’s future root and canopy spread. It would be awfully expensive and tragic to have to cut down a beautiful 30-foot tall, mature shade tree because its roots were breaking up your plumbing.

Planting Depth Really Matters

Prepare a hole two- to three-times as wide as the root ball of your tree. The most common mistake you can make is digging a hole that is too deep and too narrow. If the hole is too deep, the roots will not have access to a sufficient amount of oxygen to ensure proper growth. If the hole is too narrow, the roots will not be able to expand enough to be able to nourish and structure the tree properly.

Before you start digging, spread a tarp on the ground to the side where you plan on depositing the dirt. This will make it easier when you have to refill the hole. After the right-sized hole is dug, you should then roughen the sides and bottom with a pick or shovel. This will help the roots grow strong into the soil.

Place the tree in the hole. Be firm yet careful when removing the tree from the container, so the root or root balls don’t dry out. This is best done by laying the tree on its side with the container near the hole you just dug. Once your tree is removed, loosen the roots from the sides and bottoms with your hands, then gently uncurl the roots so that they are facing away from the trunk. This ensures they won’t spiral or cut into the trunk as it expands.

Position the tree where you want it. Rotate the tree to move the branches so they are not in the way of anything. If you prefer to see a certain side, you can turn your tree to be in the viewpoint you want. If you turn the tree, make sure you are lifting it by the root ball and not by the tree trunk base itself.

Proper tree planting diagram
Click to enlarge.

Make sure your tree is planted at the exact same depth as it was planted in the pot or burlap sack it came in. Planting a tree too deep is a leading cause of tree death because it smothers the roots and introduces moisture and fungus to the trunk.

Planting a tree too shallow will expose too much of the top of the root system to the elements. If you have to move the tree to place more soil beneath it or take some away to get the tree to sit at the right depth during planting, it is worth the work. A tree can last for generations if you plant it right.

Fill around the root ball with the loose soil from your tarp. Use your heel or the handle of your shovel to press down on the dirt to collapse any large air pockets in the soil. This will help stabilize the tree in the hole.

While doing this, constantly check the trunk of the tree to ensure that it’s straight.

Water Trees Sufficiently

Cooler, wetter weather is the perfect time for tree planting, and seasonal rains can often provide all the water the tree needs to establish. However, if the weather is dry you should make sure your shade trees get about 15-20 gallons of water a week, until they go dormant for winter. Fruit trees and ornamental trees and shrubs can receive a little less.

It is very easy to make sure your tree gets the water it needs automatically using a TreeGator device. These weatherproof irrigation bags hold several gallons of water and release it slowly into the root zone of your newly planted trees.

No Mulch Volcanoes!

diagram of proper tree mulching technique
Image courtesy the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois

It’s important to mulch around your new tree to reduce weeds and help the soil conserve water. However, never pile mulch around the trunk of your tree! I know people do this all the time everywhere you go, but it is a very harmful practice for the tree and shortens its lifespan greatly.

While you should always mulch your trees, piling up the mulch around the trunk like a volcano introduces wood-rotting bacteria and fungus from the mulch directly to the living, growing bark of the tree. The moisture build-up and fungus will often girdle or kill the tree before it can reach maturity.

The proper way to place mulch around a tree is in a “doughnut” shape that doesn’t allow the rotting mulch to come into contact with the living bark. (See image above.)

Staking is Usually Unnecessary

Don’t use stakes unless absolutely necessary. If the tree is grown and dug properly at the nursery, it will establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting, but instead are allowed to adapt to local conditions. However, protective staking may be necessary where lawn mower damage, vandalism, or windy conditions are concerns.

Trees Benefit Us All

This fall, consider planting a tree or two on your property, or help with a tree planting in your community. And this holiday season, consider a generous donation to a non-profit that plants trees or does reforestation work.

We all benefit greatly from living among more trees. A future with fewer trees is a future that is less secure for all of us. Good thing we can easily do something about it.

Updated September 9, 2021

24 thoughts on “Fall is for Tree Planting!—How to Plant a Tree”

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  1. Trees help clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and provide habitat to over 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. They also provide jobs to over 1.6 billion people, absorb harmful carbon from the atmosphere, and are key ingredients in 25% of all medicines.

    Today I did something good, not only for myself but also for nature and I can’t wait to share it with you!

    I spent a lot of time looking for a platform through which I can easily help Mother Nature.

    I found these great young boys and girls who have developed an online store with a cause – They Plant Trees Where They’re Needed Most, As Part Of The One Tree Planted Project.

    I had the pleasure of talking with them. I asked them, why are you doing this?

    ?nd they answered me:

    “In these difficult times of environmental problems and pandemics. We have created an easy and safe way to plant a tree where it is most needed. From your home, through your phone, wherever you have internet.”

    After talking for a while, I realized that these people wholeheartedly want to help Mother Nature because she needs us.

    I immediately liked a few products. And at this moment I wear my comfy t-shirts from Nature Clothing – Official Shop with great pleasure. And the fact that I just planted a tree with a few clicks makes me feel even better than ever. I feel great. Do something good like me, today, now.

  2. Thanks for your good article on tree planting. I love it. We all need to plant more and more trees to save our nature.

    Good Tips By the Way.

  3. This is what I did just a few days (on August 16th, 2019) back in my village – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YboqbUL5Kzs&t=18s

    1. Wow!! This is just wonderful! Thank you for all your work planting trees! I hope many millions more join you.

  4. Such a timely article. Been looking for websites where I can find opportunities to promote trees and found your post. Thanks for including the websites we can turn to when we want to help in bringing more trees to this planet. 🙂

  5. Hi. We recently found this article and found it to be very valuable as we launched our tree business this past year. Thank you for taking the time to put together this very information rich article and this will definitely be helpful to us when educating our clients about trees. We look forward to reading more of your articles. Keep up the great work!

  6. Planting trees are one of the simplest and most sustainable ways to positively influence the environment. We require trees now more than ever! Communities across the state have been devastated with the loss of tens of millions of ash trees since the emerald ash borer was initially discovered in metro Detroit in 2002. Trees are our lifeline to cleaner air and a healthy environment.

  7. I do believe that we should plant more trees like chestnut trees since they can help soak up stormwater as you mentioned which can protect our homes from floods. If they can release enough oxygen to sustain two human beings as you stated, I should buy some for sale and plant some at the local park. I do agree that they can improve my property as you pointed out as well so I’ll plant a chestnut to improve my garden when I see some online nurseries selling them.

  8. Hey, great article, has lots of good information for my research on companies that plant trees. We just published a story with 18 companies that plant trees for each purchase. https://woodmafia.com.au/updates/ companies-plant-a-tree-every-time-buy/ Regards, Simon

  9. This Autumn (Southern Hemisphere) I planted a number of fruit trees. They will provide us with food and shade, which we need as we live in a very dry and hot area, and contribute to greening our environment.

    Your point 3 is very helpful, as I didn’t know mulch could damage a tree if it’s put on/near its trunk

  10. Go online and find out where you can plant a tree in your name for free. I went to myhollywoodgreenoffers.com and it took less than a minute. Save the planet people!

  11. I love trees. I have a beautiful Pin Oak out my kitchen window. I get so much pleasure watching it change with every season. Thanks for the great information and for sharing at The Gathering Spot.

  12. This made me think of something I learned recently: cyanobacteria, or “blue-green algae” produces the majority of the earth’s oxygen supply! They live in soil, on moist surface, and water, such as pond water. Who knew!?

    I also never knew that plants only undergo photosynthesis during daylight, but at night they breathe just like us, taking in oxygen and emitting carbon dioxide! Just two things that I thought were interesting and I wanted to share. Have a great week!

  13. April @ The 21st Century Housewife

    I adore trees, and whenever we have moved I have always enjoyed choosing which ones to plant. We have several birch trees in our garden and a rubinia. Recently I visited an old neighbour who lives next door to our old house, and I was thrilled to see that the trees I planted ten years ago are now as tall as the house roofs and still growing strong.

  14. Actually, grass is better. Grass prevents erosion better, holds up to flooding, sequester carbon etc. Trees planted where they shouldn’t be are a serious problem. They steal resource from other plants, creating bare spots in the soil, exposed dirt. They can create drought situations downstream.

    The are excellent for shade, they definitely have their place, but the right pant in any given place is not always a tree.

    1. Not just any grass though. Lawn is NOT better, in fact, the suburban lawn is an environmental menace. Diverse savannah species within a grassland ecosystem, however, sequesters carbon better than trees by far (and I have written about this extensively). But fall is for planting trees, and people are not going to plant grasslands in their yards or suburban/urban communities; rather they are going to plant trees and shrubs (hopefully fruit trees too). As a certified arborist, I wrote this post to make sure that my readers are planting their trees at the right time and in the right manner, and that they know about good, knowledgable organizations that are helping reforest wherever we cut down.

  15. Thank you so much for this post! I have been considering planting now but honestly had no idea what was best or how really to do so. Now I am better equipped and understand why it is ideal to plant those small trees now.:)

  16. Agree! Trees are the best kind of carbon sink, and a much more sensible solution than sequestering CO2 in caverns under the ocean (like, it will never leak out and acidify the oceans, right?). The trouble is that you need a LOT of trees. Our yard is kinda full, so I’ve taken to planting trees at school. Or wherever I’m allowed. And a few places where I’ve played the squirrel and scattered around some native seeds in places that aren’t overly tended.

    1. David Anthony

      Thank you for your valuable information and education
      I will plant more tree and make others also to plant trees for the good of all..
      God Bless
      David Anthony

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