How To Plant Trees

Trees are an investment.  The first step for protecting your investment is selecting the right tree for the right location and planting it properly.

Proper tree selection for southeastern Colorado is critical if you want your trees to stay healthy and grow.  Selecting trees that are drought tolerant, adaptable to high pH (alkaline) and clay soils, and that are tolerant of a long, hot, windy growing season will help trees survive in our harsh climate.  For a list of suggested trees, and trees to avoid, please visit

    Six Key Steps to Successful Tree Planting

  • Dig a Broad, Shallow Planting Hole   Roots are the lifeline of a tree.  The small fibrous roots of trees do the vast majority of water and nutrient uptake for the trees and will always stay within the top 12-18 inches of top soil, where oxygen levels are high. These small fibrous roots must have adequate oxygen to survive and grow.  Trees planted too deep deprive these small roots of oxygen and thus the root system functions poorly.  Dig your planting hole at least three times the width of the root ball, but only as deep as the height of the root ball. Digging the hole wide breaks up the surrounding soil and provides newly emerging roots room to expand into oxygenated soil.
  • Identify the Trunk Flare  The trunk flare is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree where it meets the root system.  This flare should be visible above the ground after the tree is planted.  If the root flare is visible, the tree is planted at the correct depth. If the trunk flare is not visible, then the tree is planted too deep.
  • Remove All Containers For trees that are in containers, carefully remove the container from the root ball.  If you see any circling roots, make three evenly-spaced vertical slices around the entire root ball with a sharp utility knife or hand pruners.  If circling roots are not cut, they will continue to grow in a circle around the root ball, eventually causing poor tree health.  Cutting the roots encourages new roots to quickly grow out into the soil.
  • Remove Wire, Twine and Burlap  For trees whose roots are contained in wire and burlap, make sure to position the tree in the planting hole first. Once the tree is positioned in the planting hole, then remove all twine, the wire basket, and slice the burlap vertically into strips and stuff it into the bottom of the planting hole.  Leaving the burlap and wire on the root ball causes significant stress to the root system by prohibiting new roots from growing out into the soil.  Some burlap is also treated and will not break down in the soil.
  • Try to use Native Soils for Backfill   If possible, backfill the planting hole with the same soil that was dug out of the hole.  Over-amending backfill soil, especially clay soils, discourages the roots from growing out into the soil, and eventually they will begin to grow in a circle within the planting hole.
  • Water and Mulch  Water your new tree immediately, making sure that soil moisture reaches a depth of 12-18 inches.  Applying 2-4 inches of woodchip mulch within a six foot diameter around the tree will help suppress weeds and grass and help conserve moisture.  Make sure to mulch wide and keep mulch at least 2 inches from the base of the tree.

For local information on proper tree care, please contact the CSFS La Junta District at 719.383.5780 (ISA Certified Arborists available for consultation).

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), headquartered in Champaign, Ill., is a nonprofit organization supporting tree care research and education around the world. As part of ISA’s dedication to the care and preservation of shade and ornamental trees, it offers the only internationally-recognized certification program in the industry. For more information on tree planting, and to find a local ISA Certified Arborist, visit

By: ISA with contributions from the Colorado State Forest Service, La Junta District

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