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How to plant a small tree

You will need

  • Tree, tree tie
  • Cane, string
  • Spade, fork
  • Wooden stake
  • Hammer, saw
  • Compost, granular fertiliser, well-rotted manure
  • Mulch or bark chippings
Do it: November - February
At its best: March - August
Takes just: 1 hour


A tree will add height, colour and architectural interest to a garden scheme and, if planted properly, should provide many years of enjoyment. In winter, bare-rooted plants become available - a cheaper alternative to ones in pots. Winter is the ideal time to plant bare-rooted trees and there are few simple ways to give them the best start.

How to do it

Marking out planting hole


Mark the centre of the planting hole with a cane and gouge out a circle 1m in diameter using a 50cm length of string and a short cane. Cut around the perimeter of the circle with a spade. Carefully remove the turf to a depth of 5cm by sliding the blade of the spade under the grass.

Forking over planting hole

Remove the soil from the hole to the depth of the rootball of the tree. Fork over the base of the hole to break up any compacted areas of soil. This will also allow the roots to work their way more easily through the soil to anchor the tree.

Checking planting level

Return the tree to the hole and place a piece of wood across the centre of the hole. This should meet the base of the trunk where the trunk and compost join to ensure the tree is planted at the right depth. Tease out a few roots to stop them circling the rootball.

Adding fertiliser to planting hole

Add a handful of granular fertiliser to the planting hole, making sure it's evenly distributed. Mix some well-rotted manure or compost with the soil previously removed from the hole. Spread this around the rootball, ensuring there are no air pockets. Tread the soil firmly up to the previous planting level. Once filled, water in well.

Adding mulch around the tree

Using a tree tie, securely attach the tree to the stake. Place and secure the rubber spacer block (supplied with the tie) between it and the tree to hold the trunk steady and prevent rubbing against the stake. Spread mulch or bark around the tree to keep down weeds. Water your newly-planted tree frequently, particularly in warm weather.

Our tip

Keep the sides of the planting hole square; this helps to prevent young tree roots from circling the hole rather than penetrating the surrounding soil.

Discuss this project

Talkback: How to plant a small tree
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GardenHeart 24/11/2011 at 15:27

Hi, I have quite a small garden and would really like to add a tree or two, I would prefer an evergreen tree, but it appears that arcitechtual conifers are too expensive. I have a 6ft garden wall and would like to plant a tree near one of the corners (140 degree angle),to give some height and depth!

I am concerned about the roots and the wall!

Can you recommend any?

Thank you

tansmum 24/11/2011 at 15:29

When do you put the stake in?? Presumably at the same time you put the tree in the hole?? How far away from the trunk is the stake supposed to be

bethan 2 04/05/2012 at 14:55

I have been given an olive tree in a plastic pot as a present and would like to plant it in a slightly larger ceramic pot. It has green leaves and white flowers on it at the moment. I would like some advice on what kind of soil to plant it in.

Meadow 2 11/05/2012 at 20:40

Trees have been received with the root ball in dry soil, covered with woven hessian burlap and bound with very tight wire mesh. Should the mesh and hessian be removed before planting?

On another occasion, root balls were enclosed in a mesh of a textile. Two that died were dug up after 18 months. The net was still in place, suggesting that it is not made of a biodegradable material. Should it have been removed?
Best wishes,

mjtclayton 21/10/2012 at 08:34

I planted three fruit trees the year before last but in the winter snow rabbits ate the bark off all of them ,so this year I am protecting the one I've planted with a chicken wire cage .Be warned !!.

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