There are several different approaches to plant a tree each with their own advantages and disadvantages. These approaches which are discussed below are: planting bare-root trees, planting balled and burlapped trees, Planting containerized trees that come in plastic pots or fabric bags, and Cu-structural soil™ tree planting medium for sidewalks.  Most trees do best when they are planted in the fall or spring. Transplanting a tree from any kind of container is a shock, so minimizing that shock is important. Read through the information on the different tree planting approaches to determine the best time to plant your tree. 

If planting a tree seems a bit intimidating, watch a video to increase your confidence. Several are listed below. Also, check out “How to Kill a Tree”, which will make you chuckle and tell you exactly how not to kill a tree.

Safety Notice: Before you get started, make sure you call 811 for a free on-site survey to identify any public utilities that might be in the ground where you will be digging. These might be utility lines for electricity, gas, water, or sewers. The utilities will be marked for you with colored flags. For more information click on Call 811 below to access their website below:
Title: Call 811
Sponsoring Organization: Common Ground Alliance
Description: Ready to dig a hole to plant your tree? First you must call 811 to “know what’s below”. This website will explain the process for your underground utilities to be marked with flags for your safety.

Following the "Techniques for Planting" highlights is a list of additional resources. Be sure to scroll down to check them out.

Bare-Root Trees
Balled and Burlapped Trees
Trees in Pots
Using Cu-Structural Soil
Techniques for Planting Bare-Root Trees

Bare root trees are young trees that are prepared for transplanting by removing them carefully from the ground, shaking off the soil, and taking care to keep nearly all of the roots intact.

Pros of bare-root trees:

  • Retains nearly 100 percent of tree’s existing roots
  • Cheaper
  • Light, therefore easy to transport and plant, even by volunteers
  • Easy to inspect trunk flare and roots
  • Good if you have lots of trees to plant

Cons of bare-root trees:

  • Can’t be done for mature trees
  • Must be cared for attentively at first
  • Cannot be done in summer or winter
  • Until planting, roots must be kept moist with water or a special hydrogel root dip
  • Requires a special “sweating” technique for birch, hawthorn, honeylocust, ironwood and oaks

Title: How to Plant Bare-Root Trees
Sponsoring Organization: Arbor Day
Description: This is a handy site that includes a one minute video and very helpful diagrams.

Title: Creating an Urban Forest: The Bare Root Method
Sponsoring Organization: Cornell University
Description: This has very specific directions on planting bare-root trees, including diagrams. It also has a list of trees indicating which are easy, moderately difficult, and difficult to plant with this method.

Title: Planting Bare-Root Trees
Sponsoring Organization: South Dakota State University
Description: Although this is about South Dakota, this has a very detailed explanation of “sweating,” a special technique needed for bare root planting of birch, hawthorn, honeylocust, ironwood and oaks.

Techniques for Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees

Balled and burlapped trees are those trees prepared for transplanting by a process that digs up the rootball, cuts and leaves most of the roots detached and in the ground, and then wraps what remains of the roots with the soil that surrounds them in burlap and wire.

Pros of balled and burlapped trees:

  • Less chance of roots drying
  • Maintenance of soil root contact
  • Greater species, size and availability

Cons of balled and burlapped trees:

  • Heavy, making it difficult and expensive to transport, move and plant, especially for volunteers
  • Contrast between potting mix in the ball and the soil into which it is planted
  • Reduced root system; often 90-95 percent of roots are lost when tree is dug at nursery
  • Difficult to inspect root system

Title: How to Plant Balled and Burlapped Trees
Sponsoring Organization: Arbor Day Foundation
Description: Great for homeowners! This link has a 2-minute video, diagrams, and easy to use information.

Title: Tree Planting: Ball and Burlap
Author/Source:Horticulture at North Carolina State University
Description: An excellent 4-minute video showing the process with a larger tree - includes why burlap and wire should be removed.

Title: Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities: Planting
Author/Source: LEAF and USDA
Description: Great video showing planting in a curbside location for both container and ball and burlap trees.

Techniques for Planting Trees that Come in Plastic Pots or Fabric Containers

The planting method for trees that began their lives in pots of plastic or fabric require different attention from other planting techniques already discussed.

Planting containerized trees (trees that come in plastic pots)
Container trees are grown in a plastic pot. Having spent their whole lives in one container, the entire root ball is in the pot.

Pros of containerized trees:

  • Lighter than balled and burlapped trees
  • Greater species and seasonal availability
  • Entire root system intact

Cons of containerized trees:

  • Roots can be deformed and/or circling
  • Unable to inspect entire root system when purchasing
  • Contrast between potting mix and soil the tree is planted in

Title: Planting a New Tree
Author/Source: Cornell University
Description: Great 9-minute video on planting a containerized tree

Title: Planting Containerized Trees
Sponsoring Organization: Arbor Day Foundation
Description: Great for homeowners! This link has a great 1-minute video, diagrams, and easy-to-use information.

Title: Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities: Planting
Author/Source: LEAF and USDA
Description: Informative 6 ½-minute video showing planting trees in a curbside location for both container and ball & burlap trees. It recommends the best timing for planting trees (spring and fall) and suggests taking into account the local rainfall in species selection.

Title: Traditional Container Grown (CG) Tree Planting
Author/Source: Rick Harper, Urban Forestry Today
Description: Scroll down to watch an 8-minute long, but excellently detailed, video on the entire planting process.

Planting fabric container trees (grown in a fabric bag)
Fabric container trees have been grown in a “pot” made of strong fabrics, usually a synthetic material such as polypropylene.

Pros of fabric container trees:

  • Easier to transport
  • Good amount of root preservation

Cons of fabric container trees:

  • Very delicate root system could be harmed
  • Grow bag must be removed at transplanting / takes a great deal of care
  • Requires vigilant watering

Title: In-Ground Fabric (IGF) Container Tree Planting
Author/Source: Urban Forestry Today
Description: Scroll down to watch an excellent and very detailed 12½-minute video on planting trees from in-ground fabric containers.

Techniques for Planting Trees Using Cu-structural Soil™ Tree Planting Medium for Sidewalks

CU-Structural Soil™ is a revolutionary patented and trademarked tree planting medium developed at the Cornell University Urban Horticulture Institute. It is used when planting a tree in a sidewalk or other area that restricts the growth of the roots; it allows the tree to grow happily and keeps sidewalks and parking lots from being destroyed. The medium includes stones, soil and other materials meeting certain specifications such that it allows the tree roots to benefit from good drainage, aeration and nutrition.

Title: Using CU- Structural Soil™ in the Urban Environment
Author/Source: Urban Horticulture Institute, Cornell University
Description: Crystal-clear explanation of the benefits of using this product, with great photos and images so you can understand what CU Structural Soil™ is, and how and what to use it. On page 12 you will find a list of some street tree species appropriate for planting in this product.

Title: Tree Planting Standards
Sponsoring Organization: New York City Parks and Recreation
Description: While based on New York City, this extensive brochure may be helpful to municipalities. It explains exactly HOW and WHEN to use CU Structural Soil™ for urban sites. There is also a discussion of tree pit size, extolling the benefits of planting several trees in a larger pit, rather than several trees in several separate small pits.

Title: How to Kill a Tree
Sponsoring Organization:
Tree City
Description: A simple and entertaining pamphlet on how to kill a tree and how to save a tree. This Tree City bulletin shows you the top ten tree killers so you can avoid these mistakes!

Comprehensive planting guides
Title: Planning to Purchase a Tree?
Sponsoring Organization: Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program
This is a great guide for homeowners! It includes pros and cons of bare root, balled, and container trees, as well as how to look over your purchase to make sure it is healthy before you bring it home.

Title: Tree Planting Fundamentals
Sponsoring Organization: Cornell University
Description: This is an article from the Journal of Arboriculture with explanations of pros and cons for each type of planting. It is somewhat technical but advantages and disadvantages are straightforward.

Title: Planting Trees from Containers or Ball and Burlap
Sponsoring Organization: Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
Description: Are you planning a large scale planting, perhaps with lots of volunteers? This is the site for you! It includes budgeting, materials, inspiring volunteers, and a super handy timeline for all parts of the process.

Title: Tree Planting Guidelines
Sponsoring Organization: NYC Parks
Description: This is a great guide for municipalities and includes design, spacing, materials, planting specifications, seasonal maintenance, Structural Soil, and finishing.

Title: Woody Plant Database
Sponsor Organization: Cornell University Urban Horticulture Institute
Description: Find the right tree for your site. Use this tool to help you choose the right tree, shrub or woody vine based on your site’s conditions. The site also provides great photos and information on tree species.