HOW TO PLANT A TREE

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Trees provide a variety of benefits including shade, beauty, water capture and food! Learn what it takes to bring trees to your neighborhood including permits, tree selection and more. At this workshop we will teach you the 3 necessary steps to a successful tree planting:


  • Choose the right tree
  • Choose the right place
  • Plant the right way


Take what you learn back home. Engage your community by sharing the many benefits of trees and proper tree planting techniques. Keep planting trees and work together toward attaining the ultimate goal of planting the right tree in the right place.

Choose the right tree

Answering these key questions can help you choose the right tree for your yard:

1. Evergreen or deciduous?

Evergreen trees keep leaves all year. They are good trees for privacy, wind breaks and hot areas. Plant them on the north side of your home.

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in fall or winter. They are good trees to plant on the south, east and west sides of your home to provide shade in the summer and warmth in the winter when the sun can shine through.

2. What size tree?

Different types of trees vary in their height and width. Based on the measurements in the areas where you would like trees, consider the following:

Short and wide trees: Grow up to 25 feet tall and 40 feet wide. They can grow above the roof of a single-story house. They can be planted under overhead utility lines, and as a street tree if the branches won’t interfere with traffic. They need lots of room.
Short and skinny trees: Grow up to 25 feet tall and about 20 feet wide. They are great for small areas or under overhead utility wires.
Medium and wide trees: Grow 25 to 45 feet tall and 40 feet wide. They provide shade for the entire roof area of a single-story house and walls and windows of a two-story home. They need lots of room.
Medium and skinny trees: Grow 25 to 45 feet tall and about 20 feet wide. They are great for areas near fences and smaller places.
Tall and wide trees: Grow higher than 45 feet tall and 40 feet wide. They provide the most shade for homes, driveways and other large, hot areas.
Tall and skinny trees: Grow higher than 45 feet tall and about 20 feet wide. They provide shade in areas that do not have a lot of room.

3. What else should you consider?

Trees can add more to your home than shade or a wind block. Consider trees for their:

Flowers: Flowers add color to the landscape and attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife
Shape:Trees can be oval, pyramidal, round, spreading, vase-shaped or narrow; all add interest to your landscape.
Fruit: Many varieties of fruits can be grown in Southern California, providing food from the garden.
Drought tolerance: Native trees of Southern California and other low-water use trees, once established, need little or no extra water.

4. Putting it all together

Decide whether you have enough room to plant in the areas you have selected. Note that you must stay at least 10 to 15 feet away from the house foundation and at least 5 feet away from fences, patios and other surface structures.

Based on the location of the trees, look at the SelecTree website to find trees that are evergreen and deciduous and are the right height and width for your area. Remember, only short trees that reach a maximum of 25 feet tall can be planted under overhead utility lines.

Purchase the trees. 5-gallon, 15-gallon or 24-inch box trees are appropriate sizes to purchase and plant. Street trees must be at least 15-gallon size.

Choose the right place

Consider an un-shaded air-conditioning unit, un-shaded concrete/asphalt surfaces, and east, west and south-facing walls, doors and windows of your home. The sun shines most intensely here during the hot summer.

It is important to plant trees at least 10 to 15 feet from the foundation of the house and at least 5 feet from surface structures such as patios, driveways or sidewalks.

Plant the right way

  • Dig in!
    Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and slightly shallower than the root ball. (The root ball is comprised of all the roots contained in a pot. The top of the root ball begins where the roots start to emerge from the trunk.)
  • Roughen the soil
    If your planting hole has slick sides, roughen the sides and bottom with a pick or shovel. This makes it easier for root tips to penetrate into the native soil.
  • Separate the roots
    Check the root ball for circling roots. If circling roots are left in place near the trunk, they will cut into the trunk as the trunk's girth expands. Gently uncurl and straighten the roots so that they are going outward from the trunk. If a circling root is too stiff to move, you may need to cut it off, but be careful not to cut off too much of the root ball. If cutting circling roots will account for too much of the root ball, wait a year so that more roots will have grown. Do this quickly and shade the tree roots from the sun, so they don’t dry out and die.
  • Don’t bury the trunk
    If soil covers the base of the trunk, it will lead to rot. Aim to have the top of the root ball about 1/2 to 1 inch above the surrounding soil surface, making sure not to cover it with soil unless roots are exposed. Adjust the hole depth 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.
  • Orient the tree
    Orient the tree while you have the chance. Situate it so that branches won’t be in the way of pedestrian or car traffic. If you prefer a particular side of the tree, turn it toward a prominent viewpoint (such as your kitchen window). In sunny areas, orient the tree so that the best-shaded side of the trunk faces southwest. When turning the tree, lift it from the base of the root ball, not from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure it's 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.
  • Give your soil a boost
    If your native soil is hard to work with (e.g., heavy clay) or retains little moisture (e.g., very sandy), you can treat it to some organic amendment, such as compost. 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.
  • Pack the soil
    Pack down the soil as you backfill. Using the heel of your foot or the handle end of the shovel, 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.
  • Water!
    Build a watering basin around the root ball by creating a berm a little larger than the root ball perimeter. This concentrates water to the root ball. A tree that has a dry root ball can stand in a moist backfill without absorbing water. You'll need to water your tree thoroughly after planting with about 15 gallons of water. Monitor your tree's water needs at least once a week for the first month. This will give you an idea as to the frequency your tree will need water growing in your particular soil.
  • Stake
    Remove the nursery stake that came tightly tied to the trunk after planting. Stake the tree loosely for protection or support if needed. Use only soft, pliable tree ties. Do not use wire, even if it's inside a hose. Wire can cut into a trunk. If the trunk can’t stand up on its own, stake it so that it stands upright. The stakes should be placed outside of the root ball. Plan to remove stakes as soon as the tree can support itself, in 6 to 12 months.
  • Mulch
    Cover the entire planting area with a 3 to 4-inch layer of mulch, but keep it 2 inches from the base of the trunk. Mulch keeps the topsoil temperate for root growth, reduces surface evaporation of water, slows or stops weed and grass growth around the tree’s base, and prevents a hard crust from forming on the soil surface.