How To Plant A Tree Or Shrub – The Ultimate Guide

If you are looking to add majesty and beauty to your home, then consider planting a tree in your outdoors!

Trees bring many benefits to a home.  According to the Arbor Day Foundation, trees help control stormwater, fight climate change, raise property values, and help save energy.


Because of their size, planting a tree or large shrub does take more preparation and planning than most plants.

That’s where this guide comes in - we go over everything you need to know on how to plant a tree or large shrub!

Are you ready to learn how to plant the perfect tree for your home correctly?  

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents
  • 1
    1. Before You Purchase
  • 2
    2. Choosing A Tree
  • 3
    3. Digging The Hole
  • 4
    4. Amending The Soil
  • 5
    5. Planting Your Tree

    -Balled & Burlapped Plants

    -Container Plants

  • 6
    6. Mulching Around Trees
  • 7
    7. Watering The Tree
  • 8
    8. How To Stake The Tree

Before You Purchase Your Tree

Before you go to your local nursery and purchase a tree, you want to make sure you answer some questions.  Answering the following three questions helps you choose the right tree or shrub and plant it in the correct location.

The answers to these three questions makes it easier to choose the right tree for your home.  You can do online research to help you, or if you live close to Cumberland, MD, our nursery team at Ebyland would love to help you!


What is the purpose of the tree?

Knowing the tree’s purpose is important in choosing the right kind of tree for your outdoors.

There are many types of trees available for your home!  You can get fruit trees, shade trees, trees for unique aesthetics, trees to attract more wildlife, etc.


Where will you plant the tree?

Take a look around your property and decide where you want to plant your tree.  The following guidelines will help you find the perfect spot.  

First, you want to know if the location of any underground utility lines, wires, or pipes.  You don’t want to plant a tree close to these, or you could have severe issues in the future.

Second, how close do you want the tree to your home?  Since some trees can damage a house or its foundation if planted too closely.  How close you want the tree to your home affects what kind of tree or shrub you get.

Third, think about shade considerations.  Studies show planting large trees on the east, west, and northwest sides of your home can reduce air conditioning costs by 35%! 

And fourth, think about your soil and drainage conditions.  If your soil is not conducive to growing plants or doesn’t drain water well, then it needs some amendments before it is ready for your tree. 


Will the tree flourish in your climate?

While trees may be more adaptable to different climates than flowers or smaller bushes, you still need to consider your area’s climate.

For example, planting palm trees in the North is not going to end well!  

Many fruit trees also require certain climates or weather patterns to thrive and flourish.


Choosing A Tree

When you look at trees at your local nursery, here are a few things to watch for when choosing a tree.

If you are unsure what is an ideal tree for your home, check with the nursery staff for their help and recommendation.


Does the tree have desirable branch angles?

The best branch angles for optimum growth is 45 to 90 degrees in relation to the trunk.  If the branches are less than 45 degrees, fracturing can occur as the limbs grow and become heavier.


Are there dead or dormant branches?

A few dead leaves may not be a major deal, but a sapling with a lot of dead parts is not a good tree to purchase and plant.


Is the tree’s container an appropriate size?

Every tree and bush root ball is different, but it should be appropriately sized for the sapling.  Choosing a large sapling with a small root ball indicates the tree may be missing vital roots and have trouble taking root in your yard.

Digging The Hole

Once you have your tree purchased and at your home, it is time for one of the more labor-intensive parts of the process - digging the hole!

When you dig the hole for your tree or shrub, it is critical to understand that there are two different digging dimensions:

  • The depth of the hole
  • The width of the hole


When it comes to depth, a common mistake is making the hole too deep.  The fact is, you want the hole’s depth to be 1-2” shallower than the root ball!

When you place the tree’s root ball into the hole, the top of the ball should be just slightly above ground level.  This helps protect the tree’s root collar and stem from rotting and helps it grow better.


When it comes to the hole’s width, you want to be 12-18” wider the whole way around the root ball.  This allows plenty of space to mix in amended soil and add the proper compost.


Amending The Soil

After digging the hole, you should have a large mound of dirt.  We will be using some of this dirt to backfill around the newly planted tree, but we need to amend the soil and add fertilizer first.

Why is amending the soil so important?

New trees and shrubs need the proper fertilizer and soil to establish good roots and begin to grow.  While some dirt may have this naturally, most soils need to be enriched to give the tree the proper nutrients to flourish.

We recommend a mixture of Total Compost and Biotone Fertilizer.

The Total Compost helps break up harder soil and clay, and this allows for better soil aeration and root development.

Biotone Fertilizer has root-promoting bacteria that help develop bigger and healthier roots, resulting in a healthier plant.


We recommend the following amounts of Total Compost depending on your root ball size:

  • 1-gallon shrubs:  ⅙ bag
  • 3-5 gallon shrubs:  ⅓ bag
  • 12-16” root ball trees:  ½ bag
  • 18” or larger root ball trees:  1 bag


Mix the compost and fertilizer with the dirt from the hole, and use this amended soil to backfill the tree or shrub.

It is not uncommon to have some extra soil when you are done planting.  Move this soil somewhere else in your yard or garden.

A note on watering with amended soil:  Amended soil tends to dry out more quickly than normal garden soil and topsoil.  Because of this, it is critical to monitor the moisture content around the plant for the first several months and water accordingly.  See our section on “Watering the Tree” below for more information.

Planting Your Tree

Once your hole is prepared, and you have mixed the amended soil, you are ready to plant your tree!

Depending on the size of your tree or shrub, the roots come in either a Balled & Burlapped (B&B) package or a container.

Each of these has its own set of best practices when it comes to planting, and we'll cover the best way to plant each type of root system.


Planting Balled & Burlapped (B&B) plants:

  1. Don’t remove the wire basket and burlap!  Instead, place the whole package into the hole.  Make sure the top of the root ball is either level or slightly higher than the ground level.
  2. Make sure the tree is straight, and then begin filling in the amended soil around the root ball.
  3. Check the tree regularly to make sure it remains straight as you fill in the hole.  Also, lightly tamp the soil several times as you fill it with the amended soil.
  4. When the amended soil is about ¾ of the way up the root ball, remove the strings from the root ball.
  5. Cut and remove, or pull back, all the burlap at the top of the root ball.
  6. Fill the rest of the hole with enriched soil until the soil is back to the original level.
  7. Create a small ring 6-10” from the base of the tree with extra dirt.  The ring should be several inches high.  This traps water and moves it slowly into the tree’s roots.


Planting Container Plants:

  1. Slowly remove the plant’s root ball from the container.  
  2. If there are roots encircling the root ball, take a knife and make 6 even cuts from top to bottom around the sides of the root ball.  Cut about ½” deep.
  3. Make several ½” deep cuts on the bottom of the root ball as well.
  4. Set the tree or shrub in the hole.  Make sure the top of the root ball is either level or slightly higher than the ground level.
  5. Make sure the plant is straight, and then begin filling in the amended soil around the root ball.
  6. Check the plant regularly to make sure it remains straight as you fill in the hole.  Also, lightly tamp the soil several times as you fill it with the amended soil.
  7. Fill the rest of the hole with enriched soil until the soil is back to the original level.
  8. Create a small ring 6-10” from the base of the tree with extra dirt.  The ring should be several inches high.  This traps water and moves it slowly into the plant’s roots.


Following these directions results in a tree or bush that is properly planted, stands straight, and has the proper amended soil to begin thriving in its new location!


Mulching Around Trees

Although mulching is not required, it is highly recommended.  

Not only does mulching your new planting make it look beautiful, but mulch also conserves moisture and helps maintain more consistent soil temperature.

Mulching also creates a nice radius from the tree when you are mowing or trimming, and this helps protect the new tree or shrub from unwanted damage.


Several tips on mulching around the new tree:

  1. The mulch should be 2-4” inches deep.
  2. Make sure the mulch is not level the whole way around.  Instead, observe the ridge you made with the dirt around the tree and follow the same contour.  Remember, you want the water to be trapped inside the ring!
  3. Do NOT put mulch directly against the trunk.  Putting several inches of mulch directly against the tree can result in decay and harm to the tree’s root collar.  Instead, gently phase the mulch to slope down gently and stop right before it touches the actual trunk. 

For more information on mulching, look at our blog post on the ultimate guide to mulching.


Watering The Tree

Water is essential for any new planting, but for newly planted trees, it is critical to the tree’s survival!

The actual amount of watering required depends on the season, temperature, natural rainfall, and other factors.

However, the principle remains the same:  The root ball dries faster than the soil around it, and it needs to be watered regularly to survive.


If you are unsure, the best thing to do is gently dig down into the root ball with your hands and check the moisture.  

If the root ball is dry, then it needs to be watered.  If it is very wet, then wait a day and check again.  Too much water damages newly planted trees.  

What is the best way to water new plantings?

With a slow, deep watering method.  Watering slowly helps the water penetrate the root system.  Watering too quickly results in much of the water running off and not benefiting the tree’s roots.


Here are some general watering guidelines for newly planted trees:

  • 1-3 gallons should take 15-20 minutes to water the plant
  • 4-7 gallons should take about 30 minutes to water the plant
  • If you use a sprinkler, run it for at least 6 hours.  While natural rain and sprinklers are good, it takes a lot of time to have enough water to water the tree properly.
  • Monitor the tree’s root ball for a minimum of 6 months; closer to 1 year is preferred.

How To Stake The Tree

The last thing you should do with your new tree is to stake it.  While this isn’t required for every tree, it does help the tree remain straight if it is top heavy or in a windy area.

Measure 3-4’ from the tree’s base and pound three stakes into the ground at even increments around the tree.

Connect these stakes to the tree trunk with a suitable product for the tree.  Using non-approved materials can damage the trunk.

Don’t overtighten the lines.  Instead, allow for some movement so the tree grows and develops naturally.

After one growing season, the tree’s roots should be established enough to maintain straight, vertical growth, and you may remove the stakes at this time.


Planting a tree or shrub is a great way to add value and beauty to your home and backyard!

Sometimes it may seem like it is too much work to get all the planting work done, but if you follow the steps in this guide, you should find the process relatively easy and smooth.

If you live in Cumberland, MD, or nearby, then visit the Ebyland nursery for available trees and plants in Cumberland.  We offer a wide variety of trees, plants, and shrubs that are ideal for the local climate.

As your local landscape center, we have a knowledgeable and friendly staff who would love to help you pick the perfect plants for your flowerbed, backyard, and home.  And if you are unable to plant them yourself, we partner you with a local trusted landscaping contractor.

Contact our team or visit our greenhouse today.  We look forward to helping your backyard dreams come true!