Tree Planting 101: Here’s How Certified Arborists Do It

Tree planting might seem easy, but it’s actually not all that straightforward. Yes, you can simply dig a hole, place a sapling in it, and cover the root ball with dirt. However, the sapling is unlikely to thrive unless you follow the proper steps. Furthermore, different species of trees have different requirements. This is one reason why it’s best to leave the tree planting to a certified arborist. A certified arborist understands the unique needs of different species, such as their shade, soil, and drainage requirements. This professional can offer guidance on the best trees to plant in specific locations.

Certified arborists in Arizona recommend planting new trees in late winter to early spring. During the period from February to May, Arizona typically enjoys moderate weather. This is the perfect time of year for a sensitive new sapling to establish itself and dig its roots into the soil. If you miss the spring and would still like to plant a new tree, aim for the autumn months. Note that in higher elevations, tree planting is possible during the summer. However, your new saplings will need more water than they otherwise would.

Choose the right species.

Although it’s possible to plant non-native trees in the desert, it’s not advisable. Certified arborists always recommend selecting native species of trees because they are more likely to thrive in this climate. Plus, non-native species will require a great deal more pampering during the hot summers. In contrast, native species of trees can typically withstand drought and hot temperatures better. For ideal tree planting in the lower elevations of the Tucson area, consider the following species:

  • Velvet mesquite
  • Screwbean mesquite
  • Desert ironwood
  • Cat claw acacia
  • White thorn acacia
  • Desert willow
  • Netleaf hackberry

These are just a few examples. When you meet with a certified arborist, be sure to express your preferences. For example, you might want an evergreen or a deciduous tree. Flowering trees are popular choices among Arizona residents.

Select the ideal location.

Location is crucial for smart tree planting, and choosing exactly the right spot can be complicated. Your certified arborist will evaluate your soil and the species’ drainage needs, in addition to its sun and shade requirements. Other factors to consider include the following:

  • Always check for underground utilities before planting trees.
  • Always plant trees at least 10 feet away from buildings (be aware of its mature height and width).
  • Keep trees at least 15 feet away from power lines.

Furthermore, the location you select can actually affect your energy bill. If you’ve chosen a shade tree, you might plant it near the east or west windows to provide shade during the summer. Deciduous trees are best planted to the south of the building. During the winter, the bare branches allow more sun to reach the building. Lastly, if you live in a windy location, you might want to plant a line of evergreens at your property line to serve as a windbreak.

Dig the hole to the right depth.

One of the most commonly made tree planting mistakes involves the depth of the hole. Often, people dig the hole too deep, believing that the root ball must be completely covered. Actually, the hole should be one inch shallower than the height of the root ball. In diameter, the hole should be about two to three times larger than the diameter of the root ball. It’s also helpful to roughen the sides of the hole. This allows the roots to penetrate the soil more easily.

Place the tree in the hole.

Remove the sapling from the pot. If it’s in a fiber pot, you can use pruning shears to carefully cut away the fiber. The next step is to examine the root ball. This is another point at which an arborist’s trained eye comes in handy. An arborist can detect when a sapling has been pot-bound.

This occurs if the root ball has many roots circling around it or if the root ball itself is quite hard. A pot-bound sapling will have a hard time thriving because it won’t be able to send its roots out effectively. An arborist relies on extensive training to expertly loosen a pot-bound root ball and cut away select roots. The arborist will also massage the root ball to loosen it before placing it in the hole. Ideally, the roots should radiate outward from the root ball once in the hole.

Fill the hole.

Certified arborists usually prefer to use native soil to fill in the hole, taking care to ensure that the very top of the root ball is exposed to the air. However, if the soil is quite rocky or sandy, the arborist may need to add nutrient-rich soil. For example, organic compost can make an excellent backfill material. Next, the arborist will add a thick layer of mulch (about four inches). However, it’s important to avoid piling up mulch too close to the tree trunk.

Stake the tree.

Not all saplings need to be staked. And in fact, staking a tree that doesn’t need it can do more harm than good. Non-staked saplings have greater trunk movement as they grow. This movement helps stimulate root growth and encourages the trunk to thicken for greater stability. Furthermore, improper staking can actually kill a tree. Tying the stake too loosely can result in severe bark injuries. On the other hand, tying the stake too tightly can cause uneven trunk thickness. Over time, this can interfere with the passage of water and nutrients along the trunk.

As you can see, staking is best left to the experts. A certified arborist will evaluate the sapling to determine if it could benefit from staking. If so, he or she will place the stake and tie it properly to prevent the stake from doing more harm than good.

Water the tree.

All new saplings need plenty of water when they are first planted. After the initial tree planting, the ground at the base of the trunk should receive water three times per week. After the sapling is established, you can defer to the usual watering guidelines for that species.

For expert tree planting services in the Tucson area, you can put your trust in Action Yard & Tree Services. Our certified arborist will take all the necessary steps to help your beautiful new trees thrive. We are fully licensed, bonded, and insured for your peace of mind. To learn more about our services or request a quote for tree planting services, please call (520) 829-4791.