How To Plant a Tree and Care For It

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So, you want to plant a tree! Planting a tree can seem like more work than it is, and our helpful resource will walk you through everything you need to know; from choosing the right tree to long-term care and our suggested alternatives. If you’re not sure you can plant and care for a tree, think again. Anybody can plant and care for a tree as long as they have the right information.

Choosing the Right Tree for You

Choosing the right tree can feel like a daunting task, but you’ve got plenty of options available to you and lots of resources to make the right decision. There are a few factors you’ll want to consider before purchasing your new tree.

1. Know what kind of tree you want

Every tree is different, and not every tree is right for your yard or garden. Think about what you want in your tree. Here are some of the most common reasons for planting a tree… 

  • Provides shade
  • Attracts wildlife
  • Level of maintenance required
  • Space needed for the tree to thrive
  • Ornamental / specimen tree – a nice looking, stand-alone tree
  • Spring blossoms followed by fruit (apple, pear, plum, crabapple, etc)
  • Windbreak
  • Privacy screening

You’ll want to consider what trees are native to your region, as they will grow the best in your yard. You can use the Canadian Government’s Plant Hardiness Tool to learn about your region and what will thrive in your area.

2. Be climate-conscious

When choosing your tree, understanding the climate it will live in is critical. In Canada, weather can often be unpredictable and harsh, so choosing a tree that is hardy and can withstand extreme weather conditions is a necessity. Think about the average temperatures across seasons, and ask your garden centre representative or use online resources to research which trees would do best in your area.

tree-hardiness-map-1

This map indicates the different regions of Canada based on climate. The lower the number, the colder the average temperature of that region for growing and gardening. For example, Zone 2b will be warmer than 2a, but colder than 3a. 

As a general rule, it is safest to plant trees with a hardiness zone rating that is equal to or less than your zone. If you live in a 4a region, you can safely plant trees with a hardiness rating of 4, 3, 2, or 1. You can also use the government’s “My Tree” app to match trees to your climate zone.

USDA tree hardiness map

For residents in the USA, they can visit the Mauroseed website to check out the USDA plant hardiness zone interactive map.

3. Nail your location

Each tree has unique requirements for sun, soil, and climate, and the location where you plant your tree has a massive impact on the health of your tree over time. Make sure the location for your tree has been prepared properly (see “How To Plant Your Tree”).

If your tree requires “full sun”, it will need 6 hours of direct sunlight every day. “Partial shade” means your tree requires 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight per day. Finally, “shade” means your tree should be getting less than 2 hours of sun each day. Ensure your tree is planted at least 15 feet away from buildings, and that it won’t grow into power lines or sidewalks. You may also want to discuss your plans with neighbours to ensure you don’t encroach on their property.

How to Plant Your Tree

Now that you’ve selected your tree, it’s time to learn how to plant and care for it once it’s home. Depending on the type of tree you’ve selected, you’ll want to plant and care for it accordingly. Below includes a couple of guides to assist you in the process. You can access our planting instructions here, as well.

How To Plant Caliper Trees

Once your tree is home, it’s time to plant. Follow this guide to ensure you plant it correctly, and make sure you follow the associated guidelines for your specific tree.

1. Carefully select the location for your tree

Ensure utilities are marked and the site of the new tree is clear of these areas. Be cautious of low-lying areas and clay soil.

2. Carefully place the tree near its planting site with the carrier

Move the tree by its carrier to your desired planting site, and avoid holding the tree by its trunk as it could snap and kill your tree. Store the tree somewhere cool before planting it, and check the roots to avoid coiling. You can gently untangle the tree roots upon planting so they can spread forward rather than around the tree. Do not remove the carrier unless it is a potted tree.

3. Prepare your planting site

Remove grass and other plants that are within a 7-foot radius from the planting site as grass can absorb water and nutrients trees need to survive. Dig a hole that is the same depth as the tree’s carrier, and about 3 to 5 times wider than the carrier. This allows roots to spread for a healthy tree.

4. Plant your tree

Place the tree gently in the centre and fill the hole with the soil you’ve dug out previously. Do not fill the soil past the root flare (the spot where the trunk transitions to roots) as it should be slightly exposed. A general rule of thumb is to lower the tree so that the trunk flare is at or slightly above the original grade.

5. Add mulch

Mulch is both aesthetically pleasing and retains moisture in the soil, helping your tree grow. Apply the mulch between 2 to 4 inches deep, beginning at about 4 inches out from the root flare. Avoid piling mulch on the trunk as this can damage your tree.

6. Water properly

In the beginning, you’ll want to water your tree a bit more frequently so that it can grow effectively. For the first 3 to 12 weeks, water your tree well every 2 to 3 days. After this time, you can water generously once a week until it’s fully established (about 3 years later).

7. Know when to use fertilizer or other inputs

While fertilizer isn’t a miracle cure, it can benefit your tree if done properly. Your tree doesn’t need any extra nutrients so long as it looks healthy and is growing at an appropriate rate. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides as they are both harmful to your tree and yourself. If you’re unsure if your tree needs more than just water and sun, talk to a local arborist or consult the internet.

How To Plant Potted Trees

Potted trees are planted differently than caliper trees and it’s very important to know the differences between the two. Our step-by-step instructions will help you plant any potted tree or shrub.

1. Select the best location for your tree to grow in

Potted trees aren’t fully matured and will continue to grow. Make sure the area you plant your tree is suited for its requirements and has enough room for it to grow while it matures.

2. Dig up a hole suitable for the potted tree

Dig up a hole that is twice as wide as the diameter of the pot and approximately the same height as the pot.

3. Carefully remove the root ball from the pot

Remove the root ball from the pot with extreme care. Do not water immediately prior to planting. Wait until after planting to water potted trees. Lay the shrub or tree on its side with the container near the planting hole. Tap the bottom and sides of the container until the root ball is loose. If the roots are tightly wound they can be gently loosened wIth your hands.

4. Pack the soil and build a small reservoir around the dripline

Once the plant is in the hole, lightly pack the soil around the roots so the soil level is at the same grade as it was in the pot. Water in well and then add more soil if necessary. Bonemeal can also be added to the hole to encourage root growth. Build a small reservoir around the dripline of the plant to help contain moisture and prevent runoff as you water.

5. Water slowly and apply fertilizer as needed

Begin to water the tree slowly and thoroughly. To help with the tree’s growth, you can apply a root development fertilizer to speed up its development.

How To Care for Your Tree

There are 3 basic factors to know in order to take care of your new tree.

Know its needs

First, you must understand what your tree needs to thrive. This information is readily available online and you can inquire with your garden centre on how to care for your new foliage friend. You should know the answers to the following questions;

  • How much water does the tree need? (Daily, weekly, etc.)
  • What type of soil is best for the roots?
  • Is the tree susceptible to drought?
  • Does the tree have any sensitivities? (High winds, etc.)

You can find this information by searching the name of the tree online. For example, if you search “how to care for green ash trees”, you’ll find tons of articles with helpful information. You can also get care instructions directly from your garden centre or arborist. Once you have answered these questions, you’re well prepared to care for your tree properly.

Prune properly

Pruning your tree is vital to maintaining its health. Pruning is the practice of selectively removing parts of a tree, such as buds, branches, or other growths. If done incorrectly, the tree can become destabilized, and suffer damage. You’ll want to prune your tree effectively all season to ensure it remains in good health. You want to avoid jagged cuts, excessive leaning to one side, and being top or bottom-heavy.

It’s important to research the proper pruning techniques for each of your trees. If you need additional help, contact your local arborist or landscaper to see if they can provide you with pruning services for your trees.

Protect the roots

Healthy trees need healthy roots that are planted in rich soil in order to thrive. Ensure your tree’s soil is not compacted, preventing proper hydration and oxygen flow. Protect your tree’s “drip line”, which is essentially the circumference of your tree’s reach. Wherever the branches end outward is covering your tree’s vital roots.

Before You Buy Your Tree

There are several factors to consider before you buy your tree such as how the tree will get into your yard or what your soil’s drainage is like. Make sure to look into all of these aspects before buying a tree.

Know where your utility lines are

Knowing where your underground utility lines are prior to tree purchasing and planting can make a huge difference. Often, homeowners will want to replace a tree in their yard, only to find that the original tree was planted very close, or even on top of a gas or utility line.  This is a problem because the tree’s roots will grow and spread, causing damage or other problems to occur.

Having your underground utilities located prior to purchasing a tree will help you determine the best place for the tree to SAFELY be planted.  It will also save time and money and aggravation if you purchase a tree only to find later that it cannot go where you want it to.

It’s highly recommended to visit the Alberta One-Call website and submit a locate request to see where your utility lines are on your property. For residents of different provinces, you can visit the following sites:

Where are you going to plant your tree(s)?

When trying to determine where to plant your tree(s), take into account the mature size of the particular species and the surrounding area. Pay attention to the proximity to fences, utility lines, buildings, or other structures and ensure there is adequate space for the tree(s) to grow.

Most installation crews will not plant anything over the top of a utility line, even if there was a tree there previously.  No one wants to be responsible for damaging or cutting through a gas pipeline or other utility line.

How will you get your tree into your yard?

Getting a tree into a residential yard can prove difficult, depending on the area, and age of your house.  For example, the newer areas in and around Calgary tend to build homes closer and closer together, which can really hamper access to backyards.  If you have a fenced-in yard, and you want trees planted in your backyard, access will be a big factor in the size of tree you can get.  

If the only access to your backyard is through your side gate, which is typically between 3 and 4 feet wide, you may not be able to get a large, caliper (basketed) tree through that gate.  The weight of the tree will also be a factor if it has to be dollied in using manpower – not machine.

When you buy a tree that requires a machine to move it into your yard, most landscaping companies will require an entrance to be at least 8’ in width and have clear flat ground to the installation spot. This will be enough room for a Bobcat to properly move the tree into place.

If there isn’t enough space, a crane will be required to move the tree into place. Many companies will not have this equipment at their disposal and can make the job much tougher and expensive. 

Homeowners with narrow access would do better getting a potted tree (15 gallon, 20 gallon).  These will be younger versions of caliper trees that are more manageable for small spaces.  

Keep in mind that the tree will continue to grow, so just because it is a smaller tree, doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

Please keep in mind that things like window wells, concrete or stone steps, curbing, air conditioner units, etc. do impede access to a yard.  When measuring for width, the above must be taken into account, as they may be damaged, or cause damage to trees and equipment trying to squeeze by.

What is your drainage like?

If you have never done any digging in your yard, you may not be aware of what is underneath your grass.  It’s not just dirt.  The first few inches of soil under the grass will typically be loam (soil).  Below that, you may find hard-packed clay or a lot of rocks/boulders.  Whatever is below the grass will affect your drainage.

If you are unsure how the water is draining around your yard, I would suggest you dig a hole 6”-1ft deep, fill it with water and let it sit.  

If the hole is still filled with water after several hours, or overnight, you have POOR drainage.  If the hole empties of water quite quickly, you have GOOD drainage.  

Poor drainage does not mean you can’t plant a tree there.  It simply means you need to make a better-informed choice in the species of tree you plant. Holes can also be amended with gravel, to assist with drainage around the tree’s root ball.

Adding an inch or two of gravel to the bottom of the hole, then planting the tree on top of that gravel will allow water to move more freely from around the tree roots, so they are not sitting in a pool. Trees will drown if left to sit in standing water either above or below the ground.  

This is especially important when considering a spruce tree, for instance, that will fail quickly if left in water. If your area is really wet, you might want to consider something like a willow, which will tolerate wet conditions much better.

How are you going to water your tree(s)?

Ensuring your trees get enough water is a very important thing to consider. In our little part of the world, we can’t always rely on Mother Nature to keep the great outdoors watered regularly.

So, how are you going to deal with this?

A couple of ways this can be done are installing drip line irrigation, or hauling out a hose and let the water slowly trickle out.

Regardless of your method, newly planted trees MUST be kept adequately watered. Above-ground sprinklers work great for the grass and small perennial planting areas, but just get the tree leaves wet.

Replacing an existing tree?

A couple of things to think about if you are planning on replacing an existing tree.  Is the tree dead? If so, why did it die -not enough water?  Too much water? Was it too close to a building?  Are the tree roots causing cracks in foundations, or other stone, concrete or rock work?  

These kinds of things should be considered when deciding what type of tree to purchase, and if there is a better location than where the original tree was planted.

If you are sure the new tree will do well in the original location, you will need to prep the site prior to planting.  If the tree was in the ground for a long time, you will need to have the stump ground out.  

Any large roots coming out of that stump will need to be dug up and removed.  Depending on how large the root system is, you may need to offset the new tree, as there will be too much debris below ground to allow for a proper hole to be dug.

What Your Trees Do for the Environment

In Alberta, our climate is unique, and sometimes difficult to navigate. This can prove to be a challenge for many gardeners in our province. Our advice for any gardener regardless of the climate they live in is to educate yourself on all aspects of your region and the trees that work well within it.

If you’re a beginner gardener, it’s best to understand what kinds of trees to plant for the climate you live in. In Alberta, you’ll want to select trees that are hardy and can survive both hot summers and freezing winters. We’ve listed some options below, and you may recognize this foliage from around your own neighborhood.

Your tree has a lot of benefits, the most important benefit is its positive impact on the environment. Planting a tree may seem like a small piece of the environmental puzzle, but it is no less significant than any other part of conservation.

It’s also incredibly rewarding to watch your tree grow with each year and provides a sense of fulfillment upon reaching maturity.

  • Trees produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. This one you probably already knew. We need trees to help us breathe, and they need us for the same thing. Trees also reduce the effects of global warming by absorbing carbon dioxide in the air. So the more trees we have, the cooler we stay.
  • Reduce wind. Having trees around your yard can protect your home from high-velocity winds. Although if you live in a region that experiences extreme winds, make sure you’ve got a tree that’s up to the task. 
  • Prevent flooding. Trees prevent flooding by absorbing stormwater. The more trees a city has, the more protected people are from extreme flooding. 
  • Keep your city cool. Trees absorb moisture in the air and reflect heat with their leaves up toward the atmosphere. So much so that cities with significant foliage can actually stay up to 7 degrees cooler. 
  • Happy wildlife. Animals love trees, from birds and squirrels to dogs and bears, wildlife needs trees to thrive. 
  • Promotes good health. Research has shown that within minutes of an individual being surrounded by trees and green space, their heart rate slows and stress reduces. Trees are quite literally good for everything and everyone. 

And that’s just to name a few major factors. Trees have an incredible impact on the environment and our daily lives and are critical to maintaining a healthy and happy Earth. Planting a tree is so much more than beautifying your space and enjoying time with your family gardening, it’s making a positive impact on your world.

Hardy Trees for Harsh Climates

Ash “Calypso White”

Latin name: Fraxinus Americana

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 15m tall, 8m spread at maturity
  • Medium to fast growth rate
  • Grows best in full sun with moist soil
  • Extremely hardy, will grow in clay, can survive extreme climates 
  • Moderate drought and flooding tolerance

Mayday

Asian Bird Cherry

Latin name: Prunus padus var commutata

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 6m tall, 8m spread at maturity
  • Medium to fast growth rate
  • Grows best in full  sun, average soil conditions, no standing water
  • Highly tolerant of urban pollution, first leaf out in spring, large bunches of white flowers
  • Susceptible to black knot fungus

Swedish Columnar Aspen

Latin name: Populus tremula ‘Erecta’

Type of tree:  Deciduous

  • 12m tall, 2m spread at maturity
  • Fast growth rate
  • Grows best in full sun, well-drained soil with even moisture
  • Tall, slim, fast-growing, great for backyard planting, blocks sound, wind, and snow 
  • Susceptible to disease

Colorado Spruce

Latin name: Picea pungens

Type of tree: Coniferous

  • 20m tall, 7m spread at maturity
  • Average growth rate 
  • Grows best in partial to full sun in 
  • moist, acidic soil
  • Silvery blue needles, survives pollution, withstands seasonal droughts once well established 
  • Subject to insects

Siberian Larch

Latin name: Larix sibirica 

Type of tree: Deciduous 

  • Hardy tree featuring beautiful green needles turning to yellow in fall
  • Low maintenance, doesn’t require pruning
  • Up to 40 ft. tall at maturity 
  • Drought tolerant once fully established 
  • Full sun to light shade, open crown canopy

Fruit-Bearing Trees

Did you know you can grow your own fruit trees, even living in the difficult climates of Canada? There are plenty of options if you’re looking for a tree that gives something sweet back to you! In Alberta, there are a variety of fruit-bearing trees you can plant that will survive despite the harsh climate. Let’s take a look at some examples…

Schubert Chokecherry

Latin name: Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert’

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 8m tall, 5m spread at maturity
  • Average growth rate
  • Grows best in full sun for fruit
  • Tolerant of drought and shade, unique colour, fruit supports wildlife
  • Self-pollinating

Pear “Ure”

Latin name: Pyrus ussuriensis ‘Ure’

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 18 ft. tall, 12 ft. spread at maturity
  • Average growth rate 
  • Grows best in full sun, even moisture, no standing water 
  • Highly tolerant of pollution, beautiful bloom, resistant to disease, attract wildlife
  • Fruit is whole and juicy

Crabapple ‘Gladiator’

Latin name: Malus ‘Durleo’

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 20 ft. tall, 8 ft. spread at maturity
  • Average growth rate
  • Grows best in full sun, average to moist soil
  • Tolerant of urban pollution, varying coloured blossoms, supports wildlife, smaller tree 
  • Beautiful pink blossoms and purple pome fruits

Valentine Cherry

Latin name: Prunus ‘Valentine’

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 10 ft. tall, 6 ft. spread, also comes in shrub form
  • Requires full sun and evenly moist soil
  • Careful not to overwater as this tree doesn’t tolerate standing water 
  • Low maintenance with edible fruits and beautiful white blossoms
  • Hardy, can withstand extreme weather conditions
  • Self-pollinating

Apple ‘Hardi Mac’

Latin name: Malus ‘Hardi-Mac’

Type of tree: Deciduous

  • 16 ft. tall, 13 ft. wide at maturity 
  • Requires full sunlight to grow, regular watering 
  • Hardy, can withstand extreme weather conditions 
  • Produces juicy bright red apples, and showy clusters of white flowers
  • Requires another apple tree within 500m for cross-pollination

Alternative Options to Trees

Planting a tree can feel daunting, and you may feel it’s not the right choice for your yard currently. We’ve provided some alternatives to planting a tree that will provide your yard or home with as much beauty and as little maintenance.

Shrubs and Bushes

Shrubs and bushes are a great way to decorate your yard and are relatively inexpensive. They also make a great composition with trees should you choose that path in the future. Let’s look at some examples…

Cherry Bomb

A great shrub for Alberta’s climate, the cherry bomb is a sizable bush that is vibrantly coloured in deep red and green leaves. 

Also called the “Cherry Bomb Barberry” due to its sharp thorns, it encourages small wildlife to look elsewhere. A hardy plant that can survive extreme freeze and thaw, it requires regular care to maintain its attractive globe shape.

Dwarf Korean Lilac

An excellent choice for your yard is the Dwarf Korean Lilac Bush, known for its beautiful shape and stunning pale purple blossoms. This lilac is a very hardy plant that performs well with full or partial sun, the lilac is a great way to spruce up your yard.

You will need to do regular upkeep, but it is relatively low maintenance. These bushes are also non-toxic to animals and humans, making them safe for your pets or little critters to enjoy.

Spirea

You might recognize this shrub from your wanders around Alberta, particularly Calgary. There are a variety of spirea plants, such as Gold Flame and Little Princess. 

One of the hardiest shrubs, it is great for climates with extreme weather conditions. The lovely blossoms appear every spring and can be of different colours depending on the bush. They are incredibly low maintenance and a great addition to any garden.

Flowers and Tropicals

Flowers and tropicals are a great way to revitalize your space, both indoors and outdoors. There are plenty of options, but here is a great selection for beginners.

Coneflower “Magnus”

A beautiful and low-maintenance flower that is a great addition to your home or garden. They have beautiful petals and are safe for pets.

  • Low maintenance, minimal watering
  • Can thrive indoors or outdoors
  • Require full sun and well-drained soil
  • Attracts butterflies and small critters
  • Looks beautiful along any garden bed or box

Wormwood “Silver King”

This beautiful plant is a great addition to your indoor space. Tall stems lead to stunning pale green leaves, and this plant is pet-friendly.

  • Very minimal watering
  • Thrives in damp to dry soil that is well-drained
  • Light pruning in the summer months 
  • Thrive with full sun
  • Easy to manage once fully established

Our Favourite House Plants

There are a plethora of options for growing plants in your home. This is a great option for beginners looking to brighten up their space. Some of our personal favourites include…

Fish Hooks Succulent

The Senecio Radicans ‘Fish Hook’ succulent is a great plant for in the home. It is easy to care for and low maintenance and can grow up to 10 ft long. It is mildly toxic to pets, so be sure to keep it away from your furry friends.

  • Lighting: Requires at least a few hours of direct sunlight or very bright indirect light
  • Temperature: Best between 10 and 43°C (50 and 110°F)
  • Fertilizing: Doesn’t require fertilizing. If needed, fertilize with an organic liquid fertilizer for houseplants and apply once in spring.
  • Repotting: Repot when root bound
  • Water: Water deeply, but infrequently

Spider Plant

Spider plants are the perfect plant for your home. They are low maintenance and can grow into large, beautiful greenery. They are also completely safe for pets.

  • Lighting: Bright, indirect light (sun or artificial)
  • Temperature: Best between 13 and 27°C (55 and 80°F)
  • Fertilizing: Fertilize up to twice a month in spring/summer, but don’t over-fertilize 
  • Repotting: Repot when root bound
  • Water: Water infrequently to moderately as your plant grows

Cotton Candy Fern

Cotton candy ferns are a wonderful house plant that adds brightness to the home and can grow up to 5 feet tall. They are also pet-friendly.

  • Lighting: Moderate, indirect light (sun or artificial)
  • Temperature: Best between 15 and 27°C (55 and 80°F)
  • Fertilizing: Fertilize fall to spring irregularly 
  • Repotting: Repot when root bound
  • Water: Water only after the soil has completely dried from the previous watering

Conclusion

So, planting a tree doesn’t seem so hard now, right? Trees give humans, animals, and the environment many benefits, such as clean air, flood prevention, and more. Planting a tree is great for you and your family, as well as your community. 

The most important thing to remember from today is that planting a tree, or gardening at all, is completely accessible to anyone who wants to try. Congratulate yourself on taking time to learn about how you can plant and care for a tree, and its positive impact on our world. Now, it’s time to get out to the yard and start planning your tree planting excursion. 

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