Early spring and early fall are the best times of the year to plant because plant shoot growth is minimal and roots have time to become established after planting. Bare root plants should be planted before bud break in March, April or May. Balled and burlapped and container plants can be planted anytime of the year as long as the soil is not frozen. However, early spring or early fall are still considered the best times to install these types of nursery plants.
Where to Plant
Select plants appropriate for the location in which they’ll be planted. Pay attention to the eventual mature height and spread of a tree or shrub, keeping in mind that some community ordinances may restrict planting of trees near power lines, parking strips, street lights, sewers, traffic control signs and signals, sidewalks and property lines.
Other questions to consider
- Will this tree or shrub drop leaves, flowers, or fruit that may be a nuisance to neighbors?
- Will this plant receive the sufficient amount of sunlight in this location? Will it shade other plants?
- Will this plant share moisture requirements with the plants surrounding it? Is it compatible?
- What kind of care, including pruning, will this plant require?
Many of the resources listed here provide information to help homeowners answer these questions.
Bare root plants should be unpacked carefully and any broken roots should be cleanly pruned off. The roots can be soaked in a bucket of water for up to 4 hours and protected from heat and drying before planting. Do not prune any healthy roots now. Once the hole is dug and the roots spread out, any roots that are too long may be removed at that time to prevent circling or kinking.
Balled and burlapped plants should be handled carefully by the soil ball, not the trunk or branches, to prevent root and trunk damage. Once the plant is in the hole, twine, nails and excess burlap should be removed from the top of the root ball. Synthetic burlap and in-ground fabric bags should be completely removed.
Container plants should be kept in their containers until they are ready to be put in the ground to protect the roots from drying out or getting damaged. Fiber and pulp pots decompose slowly and should be removed completely or sliced before planting to avoid rot and drainage problems. Some plants may be pot bound or have roots that are matted together. To improve root growth into the surrounding soil make 4 to 5 shallow cuts around the root ball and loosen the roots on the sides and bottom of the root ball before planting. For severely pot bound plants, the butterfly method can be used.
Dig the hole only deep enough to hold the root ball. When planting in loam soil, the root flare on the tree or shrub trunk is planted level with the surrounding soil. If you can’t see the root flare, remove soil or burlap until you do. When planting in clay soil, the root flare is planted 1 to 2 inches higher than the surrounding soil (see diagram). Alternatively, you can form a one-inch pedestal at the bottom of the planting hole for the root ball.
The planting hole diameter should be two times the diameter of the root ball. The minimum planting hole diameter can be 12 inches wider than the root system and the maximum can be up to five times the root system diameter. The sides of the planting hole should be vertical. If the sides of the planting hole appear shiny or glazed, rough up the edges with a shovel to loosen the soil before planting.
Before adding soil back into the planting hole, make sure that roots are not kinked or circling. Start adding soil in three to four inch layers lightly firming the soil between layers by lightly stepping on the soil. Backfill soil may be mixed with organic matter at a rate of 3 parts soil to 1 part organic matter to help improve soil texture of medium or fine textured soil. Adding organic matter to the backfill soil is not always recommended, especially in a heavy clay, since sometimes roots will not leave a richly amended hole to grow into the adjacent inferior soil, and circling of roots may occur. Avoid covering the top of the root ball with backfill soil. Make a 2 to 3 inch soil berm around the edge of the planting hole to form a shallow basin. Water the plant in well by filling the basin with water. In heavy clay soils, watch that this berm drains within a couple of hours. Fertilization is not recommended at time of planting. Once the plant is well watered in, apply a layer of mulch 2 to 3 inches thick to the basin, avoiding placing mulch against the base of the trunk.
Landscaping and Utilities: Problems, Prevention, and Plant Selection
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Plant Materials for Landscaping
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Other useful sites on planting trees and shrubs
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
Planting and Maintaining Trees & Shrubs
Proper Application of Mulch Around Trees and Shrubs
Selecting and Planting Trees
Hawthorns In The Landscape, HYG-1051-88
Maples in the Landscape, HYG-1057-88
Sexes In Ornamental Plants, HYG-1059-88
Viburnums In The Landscape, HYG-1062-88
Hydrangeas in the Landscape, HYG-1063-03
Arborvitae For The Home Landscape, HYG-1077-88
Growing Rhododendrons and Azaleas in Ohio, HYG-1078-01
Mulching Landscape Plants, HYG-1083-96
Deciduous Shrubs for Ohio, HYG-1085-02
Functional Uses of Plants in the Landscape, HYG-1134-94
Deciduous Trees and Shrubs With All-Season Interest, HYG-1143-96
Choosing Landscape Evergreens
Blueberries for Home Landscapes
Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs
“Trees are Good” Organization
University of Illinois (Plant selection)
University of Minnesota (Plant selection)
Ohio State University (Plant selection)