Much More than Digging a Hole: Tree Planting Guide Published

ISU Extension and Outreach publication provides tips for planting and caring for trees

November 2, 2016, 11:53 am | Jeffery Iles

Big TreeAMES, Iowa – Trees serve many purposes within a community. They beautify the community, accenting streets with spring flowers and vibrant autumnal leaf colors, and help create tranquil public spaces. They also improve air quality, provide wildlife habitat and reduce energy consumption during the summer and winter.

Keeping trees healthy requires diligence, both before and after they have been planted. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has revised a publication that provides current recommendations for tree selection, planting and post-planting care. The publication "Community Tree Planting and Care Guide" (HORT 3054) was created and revised by Jeff Iles, professor and extension specialist in horticulture at Iowa State, and is available through the Extension Store.

“When planting trees, especially if you are watching over volunteers, it is good to have everyone on the same page,” Iles said. “This publication does its best to show the right way to plant a tree. This is a publication that can be taken to the planting site and used to help avoid pitfalls. Planting a tree is a huge investment and you want to do it right from the beginning so the tree will have a long life and pay dividends for years to come.”

Careful planning must take place before planting any tree. Trees must be able to comfortably grow into their intended location and not pose difficulties with pedestrian traffic or a city’s infrastructure.

“Not every site is appropriate for planting a tree,” said Iles. “It is critical to plant trees in a place where they can thrive and do well without causing problems above or below the ground. You especially don’t want a tree to become a problem for the city or town to deal with down the road. It is important to match the tree to the site and to strive for species and age diversity when planning the community forest.”

The publication provides useful information on what to look for when purchasing a tree from a nursery or garden center. Trees should be checked for size, form, vigor and appearance before being purchased.

Care also must be taken during planting to ensure the tree’s success.

“The biggest key to a successful planting is getting the tree into the ground at the appropriate depth and creating a quality planting site,” Iles said. “The hole the tree is planted into needs to be dug to the correct depth and width for the tree to grow and thrive. The overall goal is to create a planting site that promotes vigorous root growth because nothing good happens unless the roots are happy. There is much more to planting a tree than simply digging a hole.”

Check with the local government before planting to ensure compliance with any local restrictions and with any appropriate utility companies to determine the location of any buried power lines or other utilities.

Funding for this publication was provided by Growing Green Communities/Metro Waste Authority and Tree Des Moines.

About the Authors: