Arbor Day isn’t the only day you can plant a tree. In fact, learning how to plant a tree is an excellent, simple landscaping idea that doesn’t just add a little green to your backyard and block out potentially nosy neighbors.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, one mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. In other words, it’s easy on the environment and your eyes—and you can do it on your own in an afternoon. Here’s how and when to plant a tree.
Proper planning is the most important step in learning how to plant a tree. Choosing the right tree, picking the perfect placement, and ensuring your timing is on point will set you and your tree up for success. Here are the main factors to account for in your tree planning phase.
Picking a Tree
Before planting a tree, consider the size, shape, and watering needs. It will grow, so make sure it’ll fit in your space (or get ready to prune the tree often). Since newly planted trees are fragile, don’t set yourself up for failure.
Native trees (those that naturally appear in your specific climate) have the best chance of surviving without a ton of maintenance. Choose your tree based on your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.
If you’re in zone 6 or 7 (which covers much of New England), you’ll need to choose a tree that can withstand frost. Deciduous trees like oaks and maple can provide fall color but will shed their leaves in the winter. Evergreen trees will stay green year-round.
If you’re in a warmer zone, like zone 9 (which covers the most southern parts of the United States), you’ll probably want to choose a drought-tolerant tree that can withstand high temperatures like sycamore, cypress, or ginkgo.
When to Plant a Tree
Early spring is the ideal time to get young saplings in the ground, just before the new buds break for the season. The mild weather and springtime rain will help your new tree develop stronger leaves and roots, allowing it to flourish in the summer sunshine while also standing up to the extreme heat.
If your climate zone experiences intensely hot summers, it’s especially important to get your trees planted earlier in the spring rather than later, as underdeveloped roots may not be able to survive the extreme heat.
Planting trees in fall when they’re soon to be dormant is a good option as well, as it will help prevent heat damage and give them the best opportunity to flourish during the growing season.
For the best results, opt for evergreens and other trees that are adaptable to colder climates. Again, be sure to plant early in the season, just as cooler temperatures arrive.
When choosing how to plant a tree and where to plant it, location is a crucial factor. Select an area with proper sun and plenty of space for the tree to grow. Account for the tree’s full-grown size and keep it away from overhead electrical lines, underground utility lines, driveways, and sidewalks.
Tree roots can also damage your home’s foundation, so allow plenty of space between the tree and your home, garage, and other structures.
Tree Stress When Planting
Transplant shock can happen when planting a tree, which might cause wilting leaves, early fall colors, dying branches, or even the death of the tree.
To minimize the risk of this happening, plant your tree during spring or fall when the sun is milder—hot, dry summers can do a number on young saplings. It’s also important to ensure your newly planted tree gets plenty of water during the beginning stages.
How to Plant a Tree
Once you’ve selected your new tree, as well as when and where to get it in the ground, planting is a relatively straightforward process.
Here’s how to plant a tree and set it up for years of happy growth.