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Container Plants & Trees Planting Instructions:

  1. Prep the hole. Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and slightly shallower than the root ball. This technique puts the aerated backfill soil where the new roots will grow and leaves a base of naturally firm soil for the root ball to rest on, which won't settle when watered.

    PRO TIP: Avoid the clay-pot syndrome. Roughen the sides and bottom of your planting hole with a pick or shovel so that root tips can penetrate the native soil. Smooth walls are like cement to root tips.

  2. Remove Container. Be gentle but firm when removing the container, making sure to protect the foliage, lay the tree on its side with the container end near the planting hole. Hit the bottom and sides of the container until the root ball is loosened. If the container is metal, use cutters to snip it from top to bottom.

    PRO TIP: Check the root ball for circling roots. If circling roots are left in place, they will continue to enlarge in that pattern after the tree has been planted. Gently separate them, shorten exceptionally long roots, and guide them downward or outward. If roots are severely circled or kinked near the trunk, get another plant. Remember that the tiny root tips that absorb water and minerals for the tree die off quickly when exposed to light and air, so don't waste time.

  3. Fill the hole. Don't cover the root crown with soil! If soil is added above the crown, which is the place where the roots end and the trunk begins, it will lead to rot at the base of the trunk. Aim to have the top of the root ball about to 1/2 to 1 inch above the surrounding soil surface, making sure not to cover it with soil unless roots are exposed. Check the height of the root crown by laying a straight piece of wood across the top of the hole. Adjust the height by lifting the tree out of the hole (lift it by the root ball, not by the trunk) and adjusting the soil level in the planting hole.

  4. Orient the tree. If the tree has a preferred side, turn it toward a prominent viewpoint (such as your kitchen window). If it's lopsided, turn the side with more foliage toward the prevailing wind. This will encourage the other side to catch up. In sunny, arid climates, orient the tree so that the best-shaded side of the trunk faces southwest. Sunburn can kill the cambium, weakening the tree and disfiguring the trunk and bark. When turning the tree, lift it from the base of the root ball, not from the base of the trunk.

  5. Sight it upright. Once the tree is in the hole, stand back and make sure it's standing upright. Tilt the root ball until the tree is straight, then backfill firmly under and around the root ball.

    PRO TIP: Tamp the soil as you backfill. Using the heel of your foot, press down firmly to collapse any large air pockets in the soil. This will help stabilize the tree in the hole. Don't wait until the planting is finished; press down every few shovels of soil. Yes, you can tamp too much; excessive pressure (especially in clay soils) will reduce the soil porosity, which is essential for healthy root growth. As usual with trees (and most living things), practice moderation.

  6. Give your soil a boost. Though the latest trend in tree planting is not to add amendment to the backfill soil, there are instances when it can be useful. If your native soil is hard to work with (heavy clay) or retains little moisture (very sandy), you can treat it to some organic amendment. The amendment won't be a permanent solution to soil deficiencies, but it will help retain water and air in the soil around the root ball for the first few vital years. If adding soil amendment, always mix it with soil from the planting site; about one part amendment to three parts native soil is a good proportion for backfill soil.

  7. Get it wet. Build a temporary watering basin around the root hall to encourage water penetration. A tree that has a dry root ball can stand in a moist backfill without absorbing water! Water thoroughly after planting.

  8. Stake well. Remove the square wooden nursery stake after planting. Stake the tree loosely for protection or support if needed. If the stem can't stand up on its own, stake it so that it stands upright. Plan to remove stakes as soon as the tree can support itself, in six to twelve months.

  9. Mulch till you drop. Cover the entire planting area, except a small circle at the base of the trunk, to a depth of 2 to 4 inches with bark, wood chips, old sawdust, pine needles, leaves, or gravel. Mulch keeps the topsoil temperate for root growth, reduces surface evaporation of water, provides nutrients to feed the tree, and slows weed and grass growth around the tree's base.