Planting Instructions

Planting your new tree.

The Hole:

The hole should be 2.5-3 times wider than the container. The hole for your tree should be dug only to the depth of the soil level of the container; or slightly less.  Create a circle around your tree that is at least 3 feet across by removing grass and other plant material. It is ok to plant the tree about 1” higher than soil grade (this is specific to oak seedlings).

The idea is to create a place for the roots to grow into.  Tree roots grow out much more than they grow down.  Fracturing the soil around the hole by simply pushing your shovel into the ground and pulling it out (no soil removal) will loosen the soil around the hole and let in more water, air, and organic material for your young tree’s roots to feed on.


When you are ready to place the tree in the hole, tip your seedling on its side. Grasp the base of its trunk near the soil in one hand and the container in the other. With your thumb push on the base of the container and gently slide the tree from the container.

Check out those roots!  Young oaks have phenomenal but delicate roots. You may see that the roots of your seedling are starting to outgrow the container. Gently tease (gently loosen and separate) the roots and spread them out radially in the hole. Partially fill the hole firming the soil around the roots. Do not add amendments such as compost of fertilizer to the soil. Gently shovel in the remaining soil. It should be firmly, but not tightly packed. Build the soil into a 2-foot-wide circular moat around the tree and water generously. After the water has soaked in, mulch the area around your tree.


Mulch is important for moisture retention and soil improvement.  Cover the 3-foot circle of bare soil you crated at planting using old newspaper about 5-7 sheets thick.  The newspaper will initially act as a weed barrier but breaks down quickly to allow nutrients and organic material into the soil.  Keep the newspaper 1-3 inches away from the trunk of the tree.

Apply 2-3 inches of mulch to cover the newspaper circle you have created.  Apply the mulch in an even layer. Pull the mulch away from your seedling’s trunk. After mulch is installed, water lightly to settle.

The idea is to create a mulch doughnut to protect your small trees newly establishing roots.  Do not create a “mulch volcano” for your young tree to sprout from. Too much mulch, or mulch piled on the trunk, can potentially promote insects and diseases to attack your new tree.


Fencing should be installed immediately after planting.

Small oaks are tasty treats. Rabbits and other herbivores in your yard would love to snack on this new addition.

Place the cage over the tree with the tree roughly in the center. Make sure the smaller holes in the fencing are closest to the ground.  Fasten the cage securely to the ground using all four landscape staples included.  Place staple over bottom rung of the fencing and press firmly into the ground. You may need to temporarily move mulch from under fence during installation.

Post planting.


Rule of thumb is that new trees need an inch of water per week during the growing season; in the form of gentle rainfall or watering.


After planting your tree, you should check it at least twice per week.   When summer conditions get hot and dry you will need to water more frequently.  If it has been raining you may not need to water as much. Over watering can be just as harmful as not watering enough. Make sure the soil is moist (not muddy).

Watering is like grilling; low and slow.  It is best to water fewer times per week for longer period of time. It ensures that the water is absorbed deeper into the ground rather than running off the surface. This is especially important if you have clay soils.

Use slow watering techniques.  One method is to add water several times in watering session allowing each application to soak in completely. You may also use some form of drip or trickle irrigation.  This may be part of your home landscape irrigation system or makeshift, using containers such as a milk jug with holes punched in the bottom and placed by the tree. You can fill the container and the water is slowly released into the ground.


Newly planted trees should not be fertilized!

Fertilizer promotes shoot growth.  New trees need to establish healthy root systems before focusing on the top growth promoted by fertilization. If you would like to give your small tree a boost, apply a 1-inch layer of compost underneath the mulch. The compost will provide needed organic matter and nutrients while improving the soil.

Keep lawn fertilizers and herbicides away from your new tree they can cause damage to roots and young leaves.

Most trees will not need chemical fertilizers. Trees adapt to the soil they are planted in. Fertilizing a tree may make it more prone to insect and disease infestations. Avoid fertilizing unless treating a particular condition is suggested by a certified arborist.


Your new tree should not be pruned.

Please contact West Suburban TreeKeepers or a local tree care professional before removing any branches on small trees.

Most young trees should not have branches removed until they have reached one inch in diameter or larger.  Small branches on the tree’s trunk should not be removed. These small branches give the tree more leaf surface and help the tree create more energy and food.

Please reference the sources below for information on pruning specifics.

For planting diagrams and more information on the lifelong care of your tree please visit: