Gearing Up for Tree Planting Season; Some Helpful Tips for Successful Tree Planting

By Beau Brodbeck

Extension Specialist; Urban and Community Forestry


              Winter is considered the ideal season for tree planting in Alabama.  Along the Gulf Coast the months between November and March normally provide the best climatic conditions for improved tree survival.  During winter months, trees are dormant and transplanting shock is greatly reduced due to leaf fall and reduced photosynthesis and water requirements.  However, successful tree planting goes beyond proper timing.  It also requires careful site evaluation, proper species selection, and correct planting and maintenance techniques.


             Once you’ve decided to plant trees this winter, you’re ready to evaluate the site.  Homeowners should ask themselves the following questions when selecting a site for planting their trees.

  1. Is irrigation available?
  2. What is the light exposure, sun or shade?
  3. What is the soil drainage?
  4. What is the distance from the site to buildings?
  5. Are there any overhead power lines?
  6. Are there any below ground considerations, water, cable?

              Answering these questions completely and honestly will be your first step to a successful tree planting project and will help you match the right tree to the right spot.  However, regardless of the tree you select it is important that newly planted trees receive regular irrigation, especially during their first summer.  Check to see if your site has a working irrigation system or if water source is available by hose or bucket.  Current recommendations specify three gallons per “caliper inch” in diameter two to three times per week (“caliper inch” is measured six inches above ground level).  Trees should be irrigated regularly during their “establishment period”, and having easily accessible water will reduce your yard work (“establishment period” is about six months for each inch tree caliper thus a three inch tree has a eighteen month establishment period).

              Another site feature important to tree selection is considering light exposure.  Avoid planting trees that require lots of sunlight in shaded portions of your yard, and of course vise versa.  Simple research on the tree species you are considering or research on shade or sun tolerant trees will help you make a decision on where to place trees.

              Additionally, it’s important to consider your soil type and drainage.  Planting trees requiring well drained soils, like Southern Magnolias on continuously wet sites will invariably cause that tree to grow poorly or die.   It is important to evaluate your soil drainage.  This is easily done by digging an eighteen inch hole and filling it with water, if after one to two hours the whole is empty you have good soil drainage and nothing to worry about.  However, if after twenty-four hours the water remains, you have poor drainage and need to consider planting poor drainage tolerant species like Bald Cypress.  (Note; if planting in well drained sites consisting primarily of sand consider sand tolerant species like Live Oak or Sand Live Oak)

              When buildings and trees compete for space the consequences can be disastrous.  It is very important in your site selection to avoid placing trees too close to buildings.  Large tree species are often planted too close to buildings and in later years become nuisances or even hazards.  Large trees species should be kept at least ten feet from homes to allow trees to develop full root systems more or less evenly distributed around the tree.  If trees are planted too close to buildings, building foundations will often divert root growth laterally and cause trees to become unstable and more likely to blow over as they grow larger.  This should be avoided, especially in hurricane zones such as the Alabama Gulf Coast.

              Another important component to evaluating your site is remembering to “look up”.  Trees will invariably grow up and if they encounter power lines, only problems can result.  Trees are either severely pruned or removed, because nobody likes loosing their power due to falling limbs or trees.  If you are looking to plant under power lines consider planting trees that grow less than thirty feet high like dogwood, Carolina silverbell, or crape myrtle.  Larger trees should be kept at least twenty to thirty feet away from power lines.

              The second step for a successful planting project is proper installation.Tree Installation   The number one mistake made during installation is planting trees too deep.  It is often assumed that roots have to be well below ground level.  However, if planting containerized or ball and burlap trees it is best to dig the hole too shallow.  Allow the rootball to be one to three inches above ground level.  Additionally, do not loosen the soil below the tree but rather make the whole two to three times the diameter of the rootball to allow room for lateral root expansion (for example if the diameter of the container is twelve inches the whole should be thirty-six inches wide).

              Proper tree maintenance is the final

step to a successful tree planting.  After the tree is installed place mulch two to four inches deep at least three feet around the tree.  Do not pile the mulch around the tree’s base, because this will keep the bark moist and increase the chances of unwanted infections.  Most mulch commercially available will work adequately, such as pine straw, pine bark, or chipped wood. 

              Other important maintenance recommendations to remember are to water the newly planted tree as specified above, and to refrain from pruning during the first growing season.  Newly planted trees will need all their leaves during their first year to become established.  Finally, most trees do not require stacking, unless they are overly tall and in an area in your yard where regular wind can be a problem.

              For additional information contact Beau Brodbeck at the Baldwin County Extension Office in Bay Minette Alabama by email at or by phone at 251-937-7176.

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