How to Plant a Tree to Guarantee Survival

Planting a Tree

While you can hardly go wrong planting a tree, there are a few things to remember that will help your trees grow as well as they possibly can.  Read this article for some of the things that we've tried here at the nursery that work!

Time of Year

With our RootMaker Plugs, you can plant any time of the year, as long as the soil is thawwed.  However, there are certain times of the year that will help your trees root more quickly and grow well in subsequent growing seasons.

Our favorite time to plant here in Central Indiana is early Autumn.  Usually, plants leaves have stopped growing, but the soil is still warm from the summer.  It is best to plant at least 6 weeks or more from the first freeze, though, so plants have time to root properly.  In Central Indiana, there is typically a break in the rainfall in August and September, and rains will often resume in October through December.  It is best to take advantage of the moisture in the fall and plant in late September, as the trees will root in well before winter.

The next best time to plant is in the Spring, since rain is abundant then as well.  Any time from March through May works, as long as the soil is thawwed.  Most native hardwoods are hardy enough that they won't be bothered by the occasional late snow or frost.  Central Indiana is notorious for unpredictable weather, so trees from this provenance can tolerate just about anything from -20°F to 100°F!

Planning and Prepping your Site

To get your trees to grow well, a little pre-plant prep is important.  A few weeks before you want to plant, mark where you will plant your trees, and dig a hole about 3 feet across.  It doesn't need to go very deep, around 12 inches is fine for tree seedlings.  The point is to have semi-loose soil for the seedling's roots to penetrate.

Another important consideration when prepping your site is spacing - Most Eastern Hardwoods perform best when they are spaced fairly close.  Planting a grove of trees about 8-10 feet apart works best, as it allows for good crown development while maintaining upward growth.  For a natural-looking forest, try to space the trees somewhat randomly so they aren't perfectly aligned on a grid.  Remember to include space for understory trees and shrubs as you lay out the space.

Tree Planting Time

This is probably the easiest step - When planting your tree, just be sure to set it in properly.  Make sure the plug sits firmly in the ground, but also be sure you don't bury the root flare.  This is the point where the stem meets the soil level in its original plug - It is better for this point to be a little above ground than to be buried.


To ensure survival and good growth, it is important to maintain your planting.  When planting your tree, we recommend using a tree tube to shelter the tree and protect it from rabbits, and a weed mat to keep weed growth down.  We carry an excellent line of tree tubes and a proprietary weed mat - You can find them in our store here.

For the first few years, you may need to prune the trees for good form.  Eliminate narrow branch angles and competing leaders, as these will lead to problems when the tree matures.  Time spent pruning in the first few years will result in a much better tree in 10 years.  After a few years, the trees' branches will have begun to touch if they're spaced 8-10 feet apart.  This will prompt them to spend more energy in upward growth, resulting in straight trunks for better timber if that is your intent.

After 3 years or so, it is also good to begin introducing understory trees (sometimes called "trainer" trees since they keep the larger hardwoods growing upright) and shrubs.  If you wait too long to introduce understory layers, the canopy trees' roots will have filled in the area and the smaller trees and shrubs won't grow as well.

If you follow these steps using RootMaker Plugs, you'll have a noticable forest in 5 years - In 10 years' time, your woods will look as nice as any park or preserve!