How to Plant Deciduous Trees? The Complete Guide

Photo:, depositphotos

By Mark Yeater

Deciduous trees can enhance the aesthetic appeal of your garden or yard by several notches. Thanks to their mesmerizing blooms in spring and summer, followed by their vibrant foliage in fall, they can add color to any dull landscape. Apart from the beauty aspect, deciduous trees play practical roles in offering shade during the summers and reducing soil erosion. But for all these to happen, you have to first plant deciduous trees in your garden or yard.

When it comes to deciduous trees, there are certain things that you need to know to ensure their proper planting and growth. Here’s a concise guide about planting deciduous trees.

How to Care for Your Deciduous Trees Before Planting?

Take care to remove the tree from its pot only when ready to plant it. Until then, place the potted tree in a shady open location, but not in an enclosed place, such as a room or garage. Also, water the tree regularly so that the topsoil doesn’t get dry.

When to Plant Deciduous Trees?

Mature tree in fall with golden leaves.
There is nothing like a tree to enhance the appeal of a property. Photo: Peggychoucair,

The first thing to consider is when to plant your deciduous trees. You can plant them in spring or fall. If you plant them in spring, they will have to establish a new root system to provide nutrients and water to the sprouting leaves. When you plant them in the fall, the trees get the chance to replace the absorbing roots that had been lost while they were being handled in the nursery and then planted in your yard before new leaves begin to sprout the following spring.

If you want to have better success with your fall-planted tree, always select a small tree for planting. Check that the trunk diameter is about one or two inches (5 to 10 cm). Such small trees are quick at establishing root systems and eventually grow in trunk diameter as well.

How to Select a Planting Location?

You have to select a place where your deciduous tree can grow without any interference and without you having to move it around after planting it. The factors to keep in mind when selecting the planting location include the light requirements of the tree. You also need to ensure that your tree isn’t planted too close to any structure, such as your home. This eliminates the risk of falling branches causing damage to the structure and requiring you to reach out for your tree loppers to trim the branches.  

How to Prepare the Planting Site?

Mauvaises herbes déterrées.
Clear away weeds before planting. Photo: phooAC,

After selecting the planting location, clear away any grass or weeds present at the site. Otherwise, they can rob your tree’s moisture and nutrients. Do away with any debris and large rocks. Make sure that the site is at least 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter to prevent the risk of your lawn equipment bumping into and damaging the tree trunk.  

To increase the fertility of the soil, spread a layer of organic material of up to 6 to 8 inches (15 à 20 cm) to form a bed on the planting site. Then work it into the site to a depth of around 12 inches (30 cm). This will loosen the soil and allow the root system to establish itself easily.

How to Prepare Your Deciduous Trees for Planting?

The night before the planned planting date, make sure to water the potted tree well. You need to water it until the water seeps out from under the container. This will ensure that the roots won’t be dry when you set out to plant the tree the next day.

How to Dig a Hole and Plant a Deciduous Tree?

To plant your tree:

  1. Dig a hole at least 1 to 2 times larger than the root ball.
  2. Note that the top of the root ball needs to sit at least one inch (2.5 cm) higher than the ground level.
  3. Once the hole is dug, release the tree from the pot and place it at the center of the hole.
  4. Backfill the hole with soil until it reaches the halfway level.
  5. At this point, use your hands and firm up the soil around the tree’s base.

Before completing the task of filling the hole with soil, fill it with water to soak the roots once more. You have to ensure that the water drains completely before filling the remainder of the hole with soil. Then firm the soil around the tree’s base again with your hands and or feet. Check that the planting area is level.

Finish the planting process by applying a bed of mulch of 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) depth over the planting site. But keep the mulch a few inches (centimeters) away from the trunk. As the last step, water the area once more to saturate the root system.     

How to Carry out General Maintenance after Planting?

Pruning tool used on tree.
If you need to prune, sterilize the tools before using them. Photo: schraubgut,

Make it a habit to water your tree regularly during the growing season. You need to water 2 to 3 times per week and increase the frequency if the weather becomes extremely hot or dry.

Keep a watchful eye to prevent pests in your garden or yard from impacting your tree. If you see any infestation, take immediate steps to address the issue.

When it’s time to prune your tree, sterilize the pruning tools before using them. Avoid overwatering the tree when it is dormant.   

In Conclusion

By investing a little time and effort, you will be able to plant your deciduous trees and ensure their healthy growth. Now that you know how to go about the task of planting deciduous trees, go ahead and beautify your garden with their presence.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

6 comments on “How to Plant Deciduous Trees? The Complete Guide

  1. Why is someone trying to prune such a big branch with hedge shears?!

    • That was the photo the author supplied to me. I was puzzled too!

      • It sort of makes me wonder how many weird pictures get tacked onto my articles in the various newspapers that they go to. There is no way that I can see all of them, and I have seen a few odd ones.

  2. Yes we need to plant more trees. Latest info suggests placing soil amendments on top of the native soil which encourages roots to move beyond the amended soil. At the end of the season, especially with a potted tree, it’s a good idea to gently wash as much of the container soil off of the roots 1) to check for and correct any root issues and 2) to make it easier for roots to move into the native soil.

  3. Hmmm, current tree planting advice suggests just using the soil found in the planting area and not “improving” it so that the new tree’s roots have a uniform substrate to grow in. Also there’s now a lot of discussion on how to best prepare the roots in the root ball so that the root flare is visible on the surface of the planting and that any encircling roots are pruned so that the young tree doesn’t strangle itself in a few years.

  4. I love the Oak & the Japanese Maples

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