Prepping to Plant

Planting a tree involves more than digging a hole and tossing in young trees you bought on sale. Thorough planning and professional guidance are essential if you want a healthy canopy with curb appeal.

This guideline covers general tree planting principles and site preparation tips. These recommendations can be applied to most landscape projects, tree species and climates, and will yield the best results if followed under the supervision of a professional arborist.

Designing Your Tree Canopy

A well-planned tree canopy can add value, aesthetic appeal, and vitality to your yard. Before you plant your tree, evaluate your landscape and decide what exactly how you want your yard to look. This can be a daunting process. To simplify the project, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the planting spot have enough room for a mature-sized tree and its roots?
  • Can I live with this design in the long-term?
  • Do the trees I want to plant complement each other aesthetically?
  • Are these trees native to the environment?
  • Is my design safe?
  • Is my design energy-efficient?
  • Will I be able to handle the follow-up maintenance?

If you can’t answer these questions yet, don’t worry. A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best trees to plant. As such, a preliminary consultation with a tree care professional is always the recommended first step.

If you want to weed out your options first, though, try using the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Wizard tool to see if your dream canopy fits your region, climate and space.

Design Tips & Guidelines: Spacing

Many homeowners neglect to space their trees properly which leads to overgrown, crowded conditions in your yard. This is detrimental to your trees’ nutrient intake and overall health. Use these dimensions as a rough estimate of spacing:

  • For trees which mature greater than 60 feet, plant a minimum 20 feet from a building and 40 feet apart.
  • For tree which mature between 30 and 60 feet, plant a minimum 15 feet from a building and 35 feet apart.
  • For trees which mature less than 30 feet, plant a minimum 10 feet from a building and 15 feet apart.
  • Plant trees no less than 15 feet from a driveway, 10 feet from a utility pole, and 30 feet from an intersection.
  • Do not plant trees that grow over 20 feet tall under power lines.

Design Tips & Guidelines: Site & Soil

Proper soil is imperative for successful planting. Use the tips below to help ensure you are prepping to plant correctly.

  • Call Dig Safe to be sure there are no underground services in your planting area.
  • Check to make sure your planting area has adequate drainage. If the soil is poorly-drained, your choice of tree species will be limited.
  • Do a soil test to determine if your soil has the correct pH (acidic or basic) and nutrients to support tree health. Tip: Most trees with do fine with a moderately acidic soil.
  • Check soil structure. Is your soil sandy? Does it have a lot of clay or silt? This can be done by sight, or with a soil test.
  • Once you have determined soil pH (acidic or basic), soil drainage (wet or dry), and structure (sandy, clay, silt), you can then select a tree species that will thrive in your area.

To learn more about soil health, click here.

Preparing the Site

After you narrow down where you want to plant your trees and what species you want to plant, it’s important to remove competing vegetation such as bushes and weeds from the area – if they inhibit your project. This way, your newly planted trees will have a better chance of surviving. There are two methods of site preparation: mechanical and chemical.

  • Mechanical site preparation simply means removing competing vegetation from the planting site. Clear an area two feet in diameter where each tree is to be planted. If you are planting a series of rows, leave vegetation in between the rows to guard against soil erosion.
  • Chemical site preparation involves using herbicides to control competing vegetation. Due to the diversity of herbicide products, always consult a professional arborist or tree care company before chemically treating your site. Please note: Many herbicides remain active in the soil long after treatment.

Find a Pro

For the best results, hire a professional arborist to monitor your planting project.

11 thoughts on “Prepping to Plant

  • May 12, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    When I have to remove a tree on my property it is a sad day indeed. You get so used to seeing the tree and it adding to the look and feel of your home. I try to always plant a tree to replace the tree that I cut down. Thanks for your help I was not aware of all of the things that needed to be taken into consideration when I planted.

  • December 9, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for mentioning that a well-planned tree canopy can a lot of value and appeal to your yard. You also said that you should evaluate your yard before planting to make sure that you know what you want it to look like. I think it’s a good idea to choose a tree service company that offers a variety of services for your yard so that you only ever need to call one company to maintain your yard.

  • December 3, 2016 at 2:15 am

    Thank you for laying out the correct way to prep tree planting. Spacing your trees are key to preventing crowding and the growth of a healthy tree.

  • August 31, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I never knew that it would be important to use herbicide on the ground before planting a tree. However, I want to make sure that my tree grows in a healthy environment, and so I will definitely consider doing that. Yet, which type of herbicide should I use?

    • September 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

      Hi Faylinn would love to tell you fulfill your all queries on they also can help you. i had tree related problems before they suggest me some tips what to do or not now i have so much beautiful trees in my yard

  • June 27, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I agree that spacing is a priority when planning where you plant your trees. Its a good idea especially when certain trees have roots that grow uncontrollably. I planted an aspen tree in my yard right next to my willow tree and they ended up killing each other because they were so close. Ended up having to rip them out and starting over. So thank you for these tips!

  • April 7, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    My brother and I are always trying to plan some good tree planting places on my parents farm, because we want our little ones to actually play outside like we did as kids. We’re in the designing phase, and probably will be for a while. We debate on the types of trees we want and whether they will complement each other. He wants trees that will grow fast, but not as aesthetic as I would want. We also have to plan how we are going to set up our watering system. Good stuff on here. Thanks!

  • November 16, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    It’s good to know that there is more to planting trees than digging a hole and sticking the tree in it. We just bought some trees for our property and want to make sure we plant them correctly. I definitely, before reading your article, thought it would simply be putting them in the ground. Thanks for the advice, I think it’ll be really helpful for us.

  • November 10, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    This guideline covers general tree planting principles and site preparation tips. These recommendations can be applied to most landscape projects, tree species and climates, and will yield the best results if followed under the supervision of a professional arborist.

  • November 4, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    After tearing down a few dead trees in my yard, I decided that I wanted to plant a few new trees to replace them. The tips and guidelines in this post will not only help me to know where to plant my trees so that they’ll get enough nutrients, but also plant them in spots where they won’t affect nearby buildings and structures in my neighborhood. The trees that I’m planting mature greater than 60 feet, so knowing to plant them at least 20 feet from a building and 40 feet apart is helpful. Now my new trees will be placed where they won’t knock against my house or my neighbor’s houses. Thanks for the tips!

  • November 3, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    My wife and I just moved into a home together, and I am about to plant a bunch of trees in the yard. I’m glad that I came to this article before I begin, and I think I may need to re-evaluate whether the trees I wanted to plant are native to the environment. Thanks for sharing this information with me, as it certainly has helped!


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