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Tree Planting


Tree planting stabilizes disturbed areas with perennial vegetation. Trees provide vegetated areas that collect and slow runoff, filtering out sediments and insoluble pollutants and encourage infiltration. In addition, they act as windbreaks and are adaptable to most any area, adding aesthetic beauty and providing habitat for wildlife.

Trees are applicable on any area where mowing and other maintenance activities are difficult, in areas where establishing grasses is challenging, or for use in landscaping applications. Because trees may take years to develop adequate forest cover, they should be used in conjunction with other management practices, such as permanent or temporary seeding or native plants to prevent soil loss and to encourage infiltration.


  • Low Maintenance
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Stabilizes soil


  • More costly than grasses
  • Difficult to establish from seed
  • Requires years to become fully established


The species of vegetation selected will vary greatly depending upon the characteristics of the site and the long-term maintenance requirements of the species. Soil type, site drainage, pH, slope, site use, maintenance, growth rate, size, the use of native or non-native species, and the time of year it is planted are all factors that must be weighed when selecting vegetation. Careful selection is required to ensure that invasive or exotic species are not used, as they may upset the ecosystem’s delicate balance.

Soils should be tested for nutrient content and pH before planting to determine the amount, if any, of fertilizer or lime required. Over-application of these soil amendments is costly, ineffective, and may cause serious pollution problems. As a result, soil amendments should be applied only as needed and shall be incorporated into the soil to keep them on site and in the root zone.

Tree Planting

Trees are difficult to establish from seed, and, therefore, seeding is generally not recommended. Transplanting expedites establishment and, with proper care, is much more reliable. Trees are available commercially in a variety of sizes and species. However, larger trees generally take longer to recover from transplanting and will require more care than smaller trees. Trees are available with bare roots, with soil wrapped in burlap, container-grown, or tree spaded. Each type has different planting requirements, so care should be taken to ensure the success of the practice.

Bare rootstock is purchased with the roots in peat moss or in a moisture-proof container. The roots should be kept damp and cool at all times to ensure the health of the plant. They should be planted deeper than they were in the nursery and only while dormant, such as in late fall or early spring. Medium to large trees should be planted ½ inch deeper, small trees 1 inch deeper, and evergreen trees ¼ inch deeper. Planting is generally accomplished with a tree spade, which is an implement with a steel plate that makes a V-shaped wedge in the ground. When planting, the roots should be placed in the hole straight down without twists or tangles. If necessary, roots may be trimmed to allow for proper planting.

Planting Bare Root Seedling

Source: National Resources Conservation Service Planning and Design Manual

After planting, the soil around the plant should be watered and packed firmly to remove any air pockets that may be present in the soil. Container grown or burlap wrapped trees are purchased with the roots surrounded by soil. The amount of soil surrounding the roots will vary depending upon the size of the tree, but in general, it should have a diameter of 12 inches for each inch of tree diameter. These types of trees may be planted year-round; however, deciduous trees are most successful in early spring, before leaves begin to emerge, while evergreen trees are most successful in early fall.

The soil around the roots should be kept cool and damp at all times until planting to promote the health of the species. The planting hole should have a diameter twice as large as the soil surrounding the roots of the tree and deep enough so that the tree may be planted to the same depth as it was in the container. Planting the tree too deep may result in an unhealthy tree and should be avoided. The tree should be removed from the container or burlap carefully to prevent damage to the roots before planting. When excavating, the subsoil should be separated from the topsoil and the subsoil replaced with additional topsoil or amended with peat moss, compost, or manure before backfilling the hole.

After planting, the area immediately surrounding the tree should be sloped toward the tree, creating a depression to hold water. A 2-3 foot area around the tree should be mulched to prevent weeds and other vegetation from competing with the tree (refer to Mulching, pg. I.M-2). However, care should be taken to ensure that a small, mulch-free ring is left around the trunk of the tree, as mulch may cause wood rotting fungi to damage the tree.

Planting Burlap-Wrapped or Containerized Trees

Source: National Resources Conservation Service Planning and Design Manual

Transplanted trees may require support to hold the tree in place until its roots become established. Small trees should be supported with vertical stakes, while larger trees often require the support of guy wires. Wires should be attached directly above the first branch of the tree, with a rubber hose in between the wire and the tree. The hose prevents abrasions, cutting, and other damage that may result from the wire. Wires and stakes should allow the tree some freedom of movement, as it allows the tree to strengthen its trunk and root system. All support systems should be removed once the tree has firmly established its roots.

Additional protection may be required to prevent damage to young trees from the sun or from animals. In such instances, the tree should be wrapped from the trunk to the first branch with a fabric tree wrap until it has become firmly established.


  • All grading and tracking should be completed before planting begins
  • Species should be adapted to the soils and the climate of the area
  • Trees should be planted as soon as alternative ground cover is in place or has become established


  • Transplanted trees must be watered frequently
  • Weeds around the base of the tree should be removed as necessary
  • Fertilizer should be added as necessary at proper rates

Method to Determine Practice Efficiency

Trees reduce erosion by providing cover and stabilizing the surface. However, due to the length of time required for establishment, no efficiency is given for this practice.