5 Steps to Planting a Happy Tree

5 Steps to Planting a Happy Tree
new tree planted near a home

new tree planted near a home

You have discussed it, thought about it, planned it, but now you are finally going to do it — you are going to plant a tree.

Trees are amazing: the foliage, the statement they make, and the shade they create; but, they also uproot foundations, clog mainlines, destroy patios, walkways and drip sap on your car.

What I am trying to say is, yes, plant trees, but before you do, make a plan. It breaks my heart to see a tree being ripped out because it was planted incorrectly. Here are five steps to a happy relationship between you and your new tree:

1. Size is everything when picking a tree 

When shopping at a nursery, please know that price is gauged by the size of the container it is in, not the size of the plant. Feel free to ask how long the tree has been in the bucket. But don’t trust them for an honest answer, push your fingers into the dirt and see if you feel roots or just dirt. If it is very loose soil, it's probably freshly repotted to a larger bucket, adding $20 to $80 or more to the tree's price. 

2. Be wary of plant deals

Let’s say you find a plant in a 5-gallon bucket and it's huge. "What a steal," you think. But wait, is the dirt hard? Do you see roots bulging at the top? If you are able, without damaging the plant, slide the plant out of the bucket and check the roots. If they are wrapped around the base in a circle formation, the plant is root bound and it is no deal at all. It is hard for a root bound tree to survive. The roots are actually choking each other. That is no deal. 

3. No-brains garden nursery is a deal breaker

Don’t be fooled by a pretty garden nursery with high prices. The place to finally buy your tree is a place where they can answer your questions thoroughly. Testing their knowledge isn’t a bad idea. Look up a fact (nothing obscure) about a specific tree and then ask the nursery and see if they have the correct answer. The nursery that knows about plants is the nursery that's caring for their plants properly and where you should buy. 

4. Tree location is key

Before you begin shopping for your tree, know where you want to plant the tree. For example, know the sun exposure (or at least the direction the tree will be facing). If you have a specific spot where you want a tree, choose a tree that is going to suit that area, something with non-aggressive roots if it is near the walkways, mainline or foundation. If you want it for shade, make sure it is in a spot that is going to block the sun and not just make pretty shadows. Please think about what you have already planted, because once you start creating shade, those plants may no longer thrive. Replacing an entire garden can be very expensive. 

5. How slow does your tree grow?

You need to do your research. How fast does your new tree grow? If it is a slow grower, invest the money in a larger tree. Don’t buy a small 5-gallon plant and expect shade, well, maybe for your grandkids (depending on your age). Same goes for fast-growing trees, some trees can grow 4 feet in one year. If that's the case, don’t put out the extra cash for a few feet that you will gain in a year.

One last thought: A lot of nurseries offer an extended warranty if you pay them to plant the tree. Depending on the cost of the plant and the size, this is usually worth your weight in gold. Not only do you save yourself a lot of hard labor, you guarantee that it is planted properly, with the proper nutrients added to your soil, plus you get free delivery and if anything goes wrong, you get a new tree! 

About this Expert Contributor: Larisa Code, owner of Gardens by Larisa, is an eco-friendly landscape designer in Los Angeles who specializes in drought tolerant and edible designs. She has been teaching organic gardening to kids over 10 years and guerilla gardens every chance she gets.  

As of Dec. 29, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

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