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Planting and Growing

Selecting the Right Tree for the Right Place

Carefully planning the tree location and the type of tree ensures that the tree you plant survives over the years without causing serious infrastructure conflicts or excessive maintenance. It is especially important to avoid underground utilities by calling Washington Utility Notification and planting small trees (trees that are less than 25' at maturity) under power lines.


Planting in the Right-of-Way

Planting for the Best Results

Good tree example

If the tree is balled and burlapped (B&B), remove all packaging (wire, burlap, twine, plastic, etc.) before planting. Additionally, remove excess soil from around the trunk until the trunk flare is visible (see the image above). Sometimes this excess soil can be up to 6" too deep around the trunk, which can also lead to premature tree death.


For details about planting itself, please use the following resources:

How to Plant Care Packet- Part 2
Planting Postcard (PDF)
DNR Planting for Success (video)

Straighten roots; if the roots are circling the inside of the container, gently but firmly break up only the circling roots to encourage normal lateral growth and prevent tree girdling. Circling or girdling roots can prevent or inhibit establishment and may lead to premature tree death.


In most cases, the planting hole should be backfilled with the soil which was removed. Amendments should be used sparingly and are ideal for poorly drained or heavily compacted and/or low nutrient content soil (most urban soil).

Use water to compact the soil after backfilling. Be careful to not compact too much as the soil needs to retain a good combination of air and water spaces for optimal tree growth.


Planting postcardPlanting Postcard_back


If the tree seems unstable, stakes may be used. Use wide, flat rubber/plastic material attached to two sturdy stakes. Tie the tree loosely, taking care not to injure the bark. The tree should be able to sway in the wind to establish a strong root system. Remove ties and stakes one year after planting.


Caring for a Young Tree

Proper care is essential to a tree's long-term health and survival. Newly planted trees must be watered regularly through the dry season for the first three years. During the summer dry season, when we receive less than one inch of rain a week, typically June to October, water with five to fifteen gallons of water a week. This depends on tree size and weather. Adjust this amount as needed. During the remaining months of the year, monitor the root zone for dryness and water as needed. Note that irrigation for lawns is typically not enough water delivered directly to the root system of a tree, you may need to adjust your irrigation to add several drip emWatering photoitters or use another form of irrigation.


Easy methods of hand watering include:

  • Watering bags - bags such as TreeGators, Ooze Tubes, etc. Fill and walk away while the bag drains slowly to the root system.
  • Drip hose - Be sure to wrap around the root mass several times to ensure enough water is delivered and turn on for a few hours. Adding an inexpensive timer to the hose can be helpful.
  • Clean five gallon bucket - Drill several small holes in the bottom of the bucket, place next to the trunk of the tree and fill. Fill a few times to deliver the correct amount of water for your tree, or use several buckets. Be sure to bring buckets in when not in use as they tend to grow legs and walk away.    

Remove any stakes or supports installed with planting after one year.

Trees don't require fertilizer, but if a tree appears unhealthy, check with a certified arborist to determine if fertilizer or some other care is needed. Trees should be monitored for disease and insect problems.

After two or three years, the tree should be pruned to improve poor structure and to train the tree for street, alley and sidewalk clearances. For more information about proper pruning, please visit our Pruning web page or enroll in a free workshop at EnviroHouse.

Maintain a mulch circle around the trunk of the tree. Mulch helps retain moisture, suppress weeds and adds nutrients to the soil. Having mulch around the tree will also help prevent damage to the bark from lawn mowers and string trimmers. Do not pile mulch up around the trunk of the tree, however. This creates an environment which can lead to trunk decay.

For more information, read our After You Plant Care Packet- Part 3 (PDF).