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Planting and Growing

Good tree example

So You Want To Plant a Tree?

We can help. Before you buy your tree, plan the right tree and right place.  Planning the tree location and selection ensures that the tree you plant is around for tomorrow for others to enjoy, causes minimal infrastructure conflicts, and requires minimal maintenance in the meantime.


Always call before you dig. You should also call before you select and purchase a tree. Unknown items underground can significantly impact where you plant your tree. Who really wants to plant a tree directly over their sewer or water service lines?

Planting in the Right-of-Way

Ready To Plant-How to PlantPlanting postcard

It's complicated to give planting directions on a website, so instead we are going to provide some recommendations that will increase the tree's chance for survival and maximize its growth potential. 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)

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).

Straighten roots; if the roots are circling the inside of the container, gently but aggressively break up only the offending 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.Planting Postcard_back

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.

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.

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.

Growing Your Tree -After You Plant

Proper establishment 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.  Drought tolerant species may need supplemental water throughout their lives to perform best and stay healthy. 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.

Watering photoNote 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 emitters 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 about 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.
  • Ice - Place ice on top of the root system and allow to melt. The watering will slowly be delivered to where the tree needs it most.


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)

Contact Information

Call 311 within Tacoma or (253) 591-5000 from anywhere else.


Tree Value Calculator

Free planting workshops

City Planting Projects

Tree Coupon

Right Tree, Right Place


Other resources:

DNR Top Tree Killers to Avoid (video)

Guide to Trees- video series

USFS Tree Owner's Manual  (PDF)