Planting a tree – Part II – Putting it in the ground!

Mulched trees 25 years after planting on sand - a forest!

by Sara Williams

Once the hole as been prepared, set the root ball on top of the mound, spreading out the roots so that they grow away from the trunk and as horizontally as possible. The trunk flare should be even with the natural grade of the soil. In areas of poor drainage, it can be an inch or so higher. Prior to backfilling, ensure that the tree is upright and straight with its “best face forward” facing where it will be viewed.

Once the tree has been positioned, backfill the hole, tamping it gently to remove large air pockets and to ensure than the roots are in firm contact with the soil of their new home. Then form a low “dike” or berm of several inches of soil around the outer perimeter of the planting hole to act as a well or catchment basin so that when watered, the water will stay where it is intended, and percolate downward to the roots rather than run off.

Water the area within your dike slowly and thoroughly, to the depth of the root ball and a few inches into the soil below. The object is to gently settle the soil and to encourage deeper and wider rooting.

Fertilizer is seldom needed. In over forty years I have NEVER fertilized a tree and many are now towering specimens of 40 to 50 ft or more.

Staking is seldom necessary unless the area is extremely windy and unsheltered. Research has shown that non-staked newly planted trees establish faster and produce stronger roots compared to staked trees. Most trees do not need to be staked.

Next, mulch! Over the course of those many trees and decades, I have gone through about a dozen semi-truck loads of mulch. I used mainly post peelings (the bark and other stuff that is peeled off in the manufacture of fence posts) from our northern mills. It is applied at a depth of about four inches over the soil surface, up to and including the dike. Depending on weather, it generally lasts three to four years.

[An interesting aside? A friend who comes to pick mushrooms, one day mentioned that many of the ones that she finds in “the pasture” (now a forest) are native to the boreal forest and should not be here. Our guess – the spores came with the post peelings and settled in.]

Once mulched, I have found that a thorough and deep watering once a week through the first growing season works well. Don’t hurry and skimp. For a few summers I hired my neighbour’s grandchildren to do the watering of a few hundred newly planted trees. Their instructions? I would provide a lawn chair and a kitchen timer. They were to bring a book. They were to set the timer for 8-10 minutes per tree, watering with a very long (600 ft) hose from the well, and then move to another tree. It was summer, so I did not demand a book review…This system worked well.

After the first season, water thoroughly every 2 weeks or as needed. (Feel under the mulch to see if it is moist or dry.) By the third season, they should be well established and on their own.

Sara Williams is the co-author, with Bob Bors, of Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens.

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; ). Check our website or Facebook page ( All Saskatchewan Perennial Society events are on hold until further notice.