Information Tree Planting


Think first about the location you have in mind and select a tree to suit that space. Trees can grow up even while you ignore them. Consider their dimensions, shade, understory and flowering habits. Make every effort to plant an asset to your green space rather than a problem.

Site preparation

Make sure that there are no underground power lines, gas lines, phone lines, irrigation systems etc. You can call Alberta First Call to have some of these utilities located:

Alberta One Call – Call Before you Dig

Excavate a hole that is about twice the diameter of the tree/shrub that you intend to plant. The depth should be about 50% deeper than the size of the container. This should clear an area about 50 cm beyond the trunk of the tree or the base of the shrub. After the hole is dug, fill it with water and note the time it takes to drain; if it's quick, you will need to water more often.

Prepare to fill the area around your new planting with a good quality of soil. You may reuse the soil that was there originally but it should be supplemented with 20 – 50% of good quality loam or compost. If you do reuse your soil, remove rocks and clumps of grass or weeds.

Care of the Plant Prior to Planting

You need to protect your plant in transport. Handle it by the container and don't lift it by the trunk. If you're driving down a highway or windy road, protect the leaves and twigs from wind damage. Even evergreens need this protection. The container should be moist when you receive it and you need to keep it damp and shaded until it's planted. Don't remove it from the container until you're ready to plant.

The Actual Planting

Assuming the root ball is moist, remove the tree from it's container and check to see if it is root bound – that is, there seems to be a great mass of roots around the outside of the root ball. If so, you should make an effort to liberate some of these by pulling them free of their tangled mass or cutting them with a knife. However some trees resent this treatment (i.e. Pines and Aspens) so be careful and err on the side of caution. Most containers will not be root-bound so try to disturb their soil as little as possible. Place the root ball at a height so that the previous height of the soil (in the container) corresponds to the new height. This is very important! Fill in around the site with your amended soil mixture and water thoroughly. After the water has settled out, add more soil as required. With larger trees you may step on the soil to compact it but this may be too much force for smaller plantings. Anyway you need to be sure that the soil is moderately compressed around the plant. Finally cover the top two inches of soil with a bark mulch. The purpose of this is to prevent grass and other weeds growing right at the base of the tree or shrub – or ornamental grass. For the first two or three years the plant needs to be protected from competition for water and nutrients.

Water & Fertilizer

Ideally new plantings should be moderately watered every second day for the first ten days. Then they should be watered every week. As a rule of thumb, you should provide a volume equal to the previous root ball volume weekly.

If you're okay with inorganic fertilizer, sprinkle a half-cup of 20-20-20 slow-release fertilizer (not the water soluble type) on the soil surface around a larger size tree at least 30 cm from the trunk. Use a small proportion for smaller trees and shrubs. It's important not to use too much. Fertilizer should be applied in the spring or summer – not after the first of August.

If you prefer organic fertilizers, you still need to apply them on the surface and not too close to the base of the tree or shrub. A pile of the stuff is okay as long as the base of the tree or shrub is not affected.

As the season ebbs and your plant prepares for dormancy, consider a moderate application of water or additional mulch so that the soil firms up as a moist lump for winter.


If you stake your tree be sure to use a soft tie to the trunk the tree. It should not need to be secured just supported. A loose rag works well. Wire or twine can damage the bark and do more harm than good.


Resist any pruning for the first or second season. After that it is important that the plant is 'adjusted' so that its mature structure will be healthy. If you know what is required then this is the time. Otherwise the Starburn Horticulture offers a complete pruning service during the dormancy period. This could include corrective pruning for other trees on your property and instructions of how to do moderate trimming yourself.

Some plants should be pruned when they are dormant and others should not. In any case, for the best outcome, it is important that a tree gets some pruning within the first few years. This is less critical for shrubs but still important to achieve a full and healthy structure.

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