How to Plant a Tree

how to plant a tree

When we were house shopping, I wanted a house with trees in the yard. As we looked at our options, narrowed down our choices, and eventually compromised our house wish list, I realized I would need to plant my own trees.

Last spring we added three new trees in our front yard. We wanted to improve the landscaping, add shade to the west side of the house, and reduce how much we have to water the lawn. Wasting water is a big pet peeve of mine, so I’m not a fan of a lot of grass watering. We try to make decisions that will result in a low-maintenance yard over the long term.

My favorite local landscaping book Easy Gardens for North Central Texas says the best time of year to plant a tree is the fall because that gives the roots plenty of time to get established before the hot summer, but most plant nurseries have better selection in the spring. As long as you keep the roots watered, you can plant trees in the spring too.

Tips to give your new trees their best chance at success:

1. Don’t plant the tree too deep. You want the top of the root ball to be slightly higher than the ground, not covered in soil. Dig a hole that is three times the width of the root ball, but only so deep that one inch of the root ball is still above ground.

dig the dirt

2. Check the roots. If the tree is root bound in the container, meaning that the roots are growing in a circular shape around the root ball, loosen them up first.

3. Fill in and cover. As you fill the hole around the tree with dirt, add water so the soil settles and there won’t be any air bubbles. Cover the top of the root ball with mulch, but don’t let mulch or dirt pile up touching the tree trunk.

4. Fertilize in the spring. Use a slow-release fertilizer in spring, but don’t fertilize if it’s fall or winter. You won’t need to add any amendments to the soil (even clay soil) since most tree and shrub roots outgrow it quickly.

5. Water is very important. Keep your trees watered while they are getting established for the first few months. Slow watering, such as using a soaker hose, is best so the water goes deep for healthier roots.

bald cypress tree leaves

We chose bald cypress which is a native tree that can survive on rain water (even in a Texas summer) and unimproved clay soil. The leaves are soft fronds, so we won’t have to rake them. I see them used frequently in street medians because they are low maintenance, and pretty too.

The trees were $50 each, the rental truck to drive them home was $20, and we bought some dirt, so our overall cost for three trees was less than $200.

Over time this might end up giving us the best return on investment for all of our house projects.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
The second best time is now.”

What is your favorite tree used for landscaping?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Bald cypress is a tree I had to grow to love — they always look a little dead to me when they lose their leaves because of the evergreen-like shape. I do have an appreciation for them now, though. I bet your three will look rather majestic when they get some growth.
    Lori @ In My Kitchen, In My Life´s last post…Sometimes I Feel So Out of Step with My Culture…

  2. We’ve added another benefit to the already long list of great reasons to plant trees: memories. We’ve planted trees on our property to commemorate – in a living way – events that are near to our hearts. My husband got a beautiful copper beech from his brother for being his best man. My dad gave me a tree the year I became a mom (a Robin Hill serviceberry). And last year, the kids planted a tree over the ashes of our beloved cat who had passed (a standard burning bush). We can watch our memories bloom where they are planted.
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s last post…Better Than Take-out: Baked Chinese Chicken with Lemon Sauce Recipe

  3. We planted a dogwood last spring, and it was droopy until the leaves fell off in the fall. We’re crossing our fingers that it will come back strong this year! Thanks for the reminder to fertilize.

    Love the quotation at the end.
    Rita@thissortaoldlife´s last post…Home sweet dream home

  4. Ooh, perfect timing for your helpful tips! Noel just texted me about 10 minutes ago to see if we were free Saturday to go to the nursery and pick out a lemon tree.

    We have no grass in our yard — all gravel and rocks (typical for Tucson). So we definitely don’t want trees that’ll lose leaves…since it’s a pain to get them out of the gravel.

    We’re thinking a lemon tree this year… and if we keep it alive till next year we might add in a lime or a tangelo or something too! :)
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…Here & There: Hollywood and Venice

  5. We also have memory trees. We have the crooked willow that our dead hamster is buried by; the red maple for when we bought the house and moved in; the yellow maple for my husband and my anniversary one year and an oak for another anniversary. I love trees; they are so pretty. I just need one more orange maple for the front yard but we couldn’t find one on anniversary time this last year :(

  6. Hi Rachel, if you’re interested in low-maintenance gardening and edible gardening make sure you look into permaculture techniques like no-dig gardening, herb spirals & food forests. One of my favourite books about gardening is ‘Backyard Self-sufficiency’ by Jackie French. It’s Australian but I’m pretty sure the Victorian climate in Australia is similar to Texas.

  7. I dearly love trees. We have a lot in our small city, and there’s even a city program that will come and plant a tree out front for you for about $70.

    We have 2 black walnuts in our back yard which is unfortunate. Black walnuts are terribly hard to shell and stain terribly, plus they poison some of our favorite garden plants. It’s called junglar syndrome (or something like that). But the trees are enormous and give us so much shade and beauty that I can’t bear the thought of cutting them down.
    Margo, Thrift at Home´s last post…Growing Sprouts

  8. I would add that when you’re choosing trees, you should always check that the species you’re planting doesn’t have invasive roots. A house we once rented had a tree in the front yard whose roots were ripping up the pavers and heading for the foundations of the house. I felt sorry for the owner as it was affecting the resale value of his property. If only the original owner had checked in a gardening manual first! If in doubt, ask an experienced gardener: they love to give advice.
    Zoe´s last post…Small Space Living Part 2: My Lego Furniture Theory

  9. I love the Washington Hawthorn and I planted one last fall. I can’t wait to see it this spring!

  10. my fav right now are english boxwoods that have gone crazy. no thank you to that neat and tidy sculpture look – i like them wild! Thanks for this post!
    Sara´s last post…6 Things I Know For Sure

  11. I really like the new tree, and it sounds like the perfect fit for your area and your criteria! I can’t wait to have a place to plant trees! :)

  12. Thanks for sharing the importance of choosing a native tree. Finding a tree that needs little water and can survive in poor soils is an important consideration! The memory of planting that tree will live with your family always!
    Kary´s last post…The Pile By the Bed

  13. We had a large tree planted (do not know the name of tree) but we made a mistake and planted too close to house. As roots were begin to get bigger, our neighbor told us to it can damage our house foundation later on. So, we reluctantly tried to move it to safer place, but unfortunately it was not successful and small growing tree died.

    I felt so bad killing the plant that I have not yet courage to plant it. Some day maybe. I like that you planted in middle far away from it any wall, fence or house.

    Lessons learned hard way.

    Zengirl @ heart and mind´s last post…Make Homemade Gifts From Extra Fruits