Determine your soil type
Most trees grow best in well-drained soil. It’s a good idea to perform a simple test in the location you’ll be planting the tree to see how well the soil drains. If you still have standing water in the hole after 24 hours, shop for a species that can tolerate wet conditions. In addition, plant the tree shallower to avoid suffocating the roots.
Transport your tree carefully
If you decide to transport the tree yourself, wrap the trunk in a blanket to protect it from scrapes and damaged bark.
Find the trunk flare
Planting your tree too deep can suffocate the roots and contribute to a condition called “stem girdling roots,” in which roots wrap around the base of the trunk and choke off the supply of water and nutrients. The top of the trunk flare should be slightly above the level of the soil when you’re through planting.
Prepare the planting bed
To reduce competition for nutrients and water, remove the sod in a circle around the tree. Loosening the soil makes it easier for new roots to penetrate the soil and for water to soak in. Dig the hole just deep enough to support the root ball and leave the top of the root flare above ground level. In good, loose soil, there’s no need to dig the hole any wider than about 1-1/2 times the diameter of the container. If the soil is hard to dig and seems compacted, enlarge the planting hole to about three times the diameter of the pot but keep the depth the same. The extra volume of loosened soil will make it easier for the new roots to get established.
Cut encircling roots
It’s not uncommon for the roots of container-grown trees to begin circling around the inside of the pot. To prevent encircling roots from strangling the plant later, and to encourage them to grow out into the surrounding soil, slice them with a utility knife or tear the roots loose with your fingers and spread them in the planting hole. New roots will grow from the cut ends, helping to anchor the tree. Refill the hole with dirt.
Prevent weeds and conserve moisture with mulch
A 3- to 4-in. deep layer of wood chips or other organic mulch helps hold in moisture and keeps weeds and grass from taking root. It also serves as a buffer zone to protect the tree trunk from lawn mower and string trimmer damage. Keep the mulch about 6 in. away from the trunk to allow air to circulate around the trunk and prevent bark diseases. If you live in an area where rodents burrow under the snow and chew on the bark, protect the trunk with a wire mesh screen.