Tips and Tricks for Planting a Tree or Shrub

Hands wearing gloves, putting a plant into a hole.

Have Your Plants Thrive

Adding a new native tree or shrub to your yard is an exciting project that will benefit you, your yard, and local birds and pollinators. Keep these tips and tricks in mind while planting to help your new tree or shrub thrive:

Choose the right spot. Before you begin digging, contact Ontario One Call to have underground cables and lines marked so you don’t hit them with your shovel. Then, consider the full-grown size of the tree or shrub you’re planting to determine how much space it needs to grow. Always avoid planting tall-growing trees under utility lines or within three metres (nine feet) of a building foundation.

Dig a hole that’s the correct shape and size. Dig a saucer-shaped hole two to three times wider than your tree or shrub’s pot, but only as deep as its root ball. The sides of the hole should be sloped, not straight down. If your soil is hard and compact, use your shovel’s edge to roughen the sides and bottom of the hole. A wide hole with a roughened surface will help the plant’s roots spread into surrounding soil.

Carefully place the root ball into the hole. When you place your plant in the hole, ensure that the top of the root ball is level with the ground. Then, use the same soil you dug out to fill in the hole. Avoid adding bags of new soil or soil amendments like manure, topsoil or peat moss, as this can have negative effects on how water and roots move through the soil. Gently pack down the soil and then water your new tree or shrub immediately to settle the soil around the root ball.

Apply a five to eight centimetre layer of mulch. To help retain moisture and prevent weed growth, apply a natural, biodegradable mulch like shredded bark, woodchips, or leaves around your planting area. Mix your mulch with compost (one-part compost to four-parts mulch) to naturally feed your new tree or shrub. Pull the mulch/compost mix back five to eight centimetres from the base of the plant to create a doughnut shape. No soil or mulch should touch the trunk or stem.

Care for your new tree or shrub as it grows. The key to healthy tree or shrub roots is watering slowly to ensure the water penetrates deep into the soil. Use three full watering cans, one full five-gallon bucket or a hose with no nozzle on a slow trickle for 15 to 20 minutes. Water whenever the soil under the mulch feels hard and dry. On average, this will be twice a week during the growing season if there’s been no rain. Always avoid synthetic fertilizers. As the mulch decomposes, it will improve the soil structure and feed your tree or shrub naturally. Replace the mulch as needed to maintain a five to eight centimetre layer.

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