How to plant a tree, the right way

Photo by Pedro Kümmel on Unsplash

How to plant a tree


1. Choose the right tree for your location. Use a tree that will grow well in our city’s climate and make sure that it’s going to have plenty of space both vertically and horizontally.

2. Dig a square hole that is twice as wide as the size of the root ball, but no deeper than the height of the root ball. This will prevent the roots from settling too deep while still enabling them to penetrate the surrounding soil.

3. In order to check the drainage, fill the empty hole with water. If it takes longer than 24 hours to drain, choose a different site. A tree will not survive if its roots are underwater for long periods of time.

4. Only prune the tree if necessary and if so, then prune it sparingly. Remove only the dead, broken and diseased branches and roots that are crushed and girdling, or growing around the main stem. Even if only a small portion of healthy canopy is removed this can slow down root growth and delay the establishment. A thoughtfully selected tree shouldn’t need any pruning to be done.

5. Set the tree in the hole with the root collar (which is just above the roots) slightly above natural grade. Planting too deep is one of the leading causes of mortality in newly planted trees. Be careful when handling the tree, always handle it by the container or rootball and don’t pick it up by the trunk.

6. Remove any foreign materials from the rootball. These can include wires, twine, cords, containers and non-biodegradable bags. If planting a tree with roots wrapped in burlap, remove as much of the burlap as possible. This will allow water to seep in and the roots to grow out.

7. Gently fill the hole with the same soil which you dug out of the hole. Do not add any soil amendments. Settle the soil with water, as packing the soil will damage and break fine roots.

8. Only stake the tree if necessary.

9. Mulch around the tree at least out to the drip line, two to three inches (5 – 7.5 CM) deep, and up to, but not touching the trunk. Good mulches include; wood chips, pine bark, leaf litter and hay. Mulching will keep the soil temperature fairly steady, it will boost soil moisture retention, and will keep weeds at bay. Organic mulches also add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.

10. Water the tree for the first two years at the very least. Be sure to not overwater it. A newly planted tree requires six to eight gallons (23 to 30 litres) of water for every diameter inch/cm of the trunk – per week. A thorough soaking is much better than light, frequent watering.

11. Protect the tree from both animals and humans. Stake a wire-mesh cage to the ground tall enough to prevent livestock and animals from eating your tree. This can also safeguard your tree from weed eaters which can easily harm your tree.

12. Do not fertilise your tree during the first growing season. Too much nitrogen will burn the tender roots, slow the growth and delay the establishment of the tree.

Did you know? Worldwide Experience plants a tree for every volunteer that travels with them every year. You can also make a donation* to our tree-planting charity partner, GreenPop, and join the #Treevolution!

*As a guideline, it costs approximately £7 (ZAR120) to plant a tree in South Africa


We cannot act fast enough to stop this disaster, but we CAN plant as many trees as possible, as quickly as possible.