Tree Planting/Care Tips

Be sure you are properly planting your trees so they have the best chance at surviving!


Information provided by the Arbor Day Foundation, Michigan DNR and Consumers Energy

 Tree Planting & Care Tips

These comprehensive tree care tips will guide you through the process of selecting, planting, and caring for the right tree for your space.

It’s important to remember that proper tree care starts when you select a tree. And what you do to your tree in its first few years of life will affect its shape, strength, and even its lifespan. Following these steps will make sure your tree gets a good start for a healthy life.

Choosing the Right Type of Tree for Your Yard

Proper tree care begins with selecting the right tree and planting it in the right place. 

The tree’s purpose. Are you planting it for aesthetics, privacy, shade/energy reduction, windbreak, or as a street tree? Your end goal will determine the suitability of different trees.


Planting site limitations. What is your hardiness zone? What is the maximum height and spread for a tree in the space? What are the sun exposure and soil conditions? This information is available for more than 200 trees and woody shrubs in the Arbor Day Foundation's Tree Guide. 
The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance always encourages to plant native when possible. Here is a list of native trees and shrubs provided by the Michigan DNR. 
Be sure to plant the Right Tree in the Right Place 
How close you should plant tall and medium sized trees around power lines
It is very important to plant at least 30 feet from overhead utilities because we don't want tree limbs to one day cause a hazard by falling on a wire or prevent electric companies from repairing wires/general maintenance. Go here for more information on Right Tree, Right Place.
Always be sure to call your local gas and electric energy provider before digging as it is very important to know whats below the ground so you don't hit a main line. if you are a Consumers Energy customer, you would call 811 (MISS DIG). To find your provider, call 1-888-258-0808. MISS DIG is a free service - they will come out and mark underground utilities, cables and wires so you know where you can plant your tree/shrub safely. 
Selecting a Healthy Tree
Bare-Root Seedlings
  • Make sure roots are moist and fibrous 
  • Deciduous seedlings should have roots about as equal to stem length 
Balled and Burlapped Trees
  • Root ball should be firm to the touch, especially near the trunk.
  • Root ball should be adequate for the tree’s size.

Container-Grown Trees

  • Container should not contain large, circling roots.
  • Pruned roots should be cut cleanly, none wider than a finger.
  • Soil and roots should be joined tightly.


Planting a Tree Video Tutorials

Watch these step-by-step videos and learn how to plant your new tree: 

Planting Bare-Root Trees or Ask an Arborist: How do I plant Bare-Root Trees?

Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees

Planting Containerized Trees


Proper Mulching

Mulch is a newly planted tree's best friend because it:


  • Insulates the soil, helping to provide a buffer from heat and cold.
  • Retains water to help the roots stay moist.
  • Keeps weeds out to avoid root competition.
  • Prevents soil compaction.
  • Reduces lawn mower damage.
Steps to Adding Mulch Around Your Tree
  • Remove any grass within a 3-foot area (up to 10 feet for larger tree).
  • Pour natural mulch such as wood chips or bark pieces 2 to 4 inches deep within the circle.
  • Keep the mulch from touching the trunk of the tree.

Also, be sure to watch this video on the importance of mulching around your trees. 

Arborist advice: Mulching 101

There are many types of mulch to choose from, but the most common mulch is wood chips. Before mulching your tree, be sure to remove grass and weeds around the tree that fall under the drip line. Then add a two to four-inch layer of mulch around the base of the tree, avoiding the trunk. Do not pile mulch against the trunk of a tree. This method of volcano mulching can suffocate the tree.

Once your mulch is spread out evenly, water your tree. 
Tree Watering
Tree watering is a key part of tree care, but it is difficult to recommend an exact amount due to the variety of climates. A few guidelines will help you to water your trees properly.
Watering Newly Planted Trees
For new trees, water immediately after you plant a tree. Usually 30 seconds with a steady stream of water from a garden hose w/ a diffuser nozzle per tree seedling is sufficient.
Water Trees During First Two Years
During the first couple growing seasons, your newly planted tree is expending a lot of energy trying to get its roots established in the soil. Especially during the first few summers of your new trees life, it will have a difficult time dealing with heat and drought. You can make this easier by providing water and covering the soil with wood-chip mulch. Deep watering can help speed the root establishment. Deep water consists of keeping the soil moist to a depth that includes all the roots.
How Much Water and When
Not enough water is harmful for the tree, but too much water is bad as well. Over-watering is a common tree care mistake. Please note that moist is different than soggy, and you can judge this by feel. A damp soil that dries for a short period will allow adequate oxygen to permeate the soil.
You can check soil moisture by using a garden trowel and inserting it into the ground to a depth of 2", and then move the blade of the trowel back and forth to create a small narrow trench. Then use your finger to touch the soil. If it is moist to the touch, then they do not need water.
Drought-Tolerant and Moisture Tolerant Species
Be sure to consider if your area constantly deals with drought or the opposite, flooding. The tree you plant should be drought tolerant if you live in an area that gets very little precipitation. If you live in a flood plain or any area that gets a lot of precipitation, make sure to plant a tree species that can tolerant heavy moisture. Some drought tolerant native tree species in Michigan include Eastern Red Cedar, Bur Oak, Northern Red Oak, Hackberry, Chinkapin Oak, Northern Catalpa, and more. Moisture tolerant species native to Michigan include Baldcypress, Red Maple, Silver Maple, Paper Birch, Weeping Willow, and more. 

Proper pruning technique is important for a healthy tree. Please review the Arbor Day Foundation's animated Tree Pruning Guide as well as videos on why pruning is necessary, the rules of pruning, and the ABCs of pruning.

When to Prune

This depends to a large extent on why you prune. Light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done anytime. Otherwise, below are some guidelines for the different seasons.

Pruning during dormancy is the most common practice. It results in a vigorous burst of new growth in the spring and should be used if that is the desired effect. It is usually best to wait until the coldest part of winter has passed.
To direct the growth by slowing the branches you don’t want, or to “dwarf” the development of a tree or branch, pruning should be done soon after seasonal growth is complete. Another reason to prune in the summer is for corrective purposes. Defective limbs can be seen more easily. Please note that Oak Wilt disease spreads in the summer season and the DNR recommends that you do not prune your oak trees from mid-April through mid-July to help prevent the spread. You can learn more about Oak Wilt disease here.
For trees that bloom in spring, prune when their flowers fade. Trees and shrubs that flower in mid- to late summer should be pruned in winter or early spring.
Because decay fungi spread their spores profusely in the fall and wounds seem to heal more slowly on fall on cuts, this is a good time to leave your pruning tools in storage.



Tree Owner's Manual - National Edition - USDA Forest Service

Tree Care Video Library

Trees Are Good