Perrywood Sudbury > Gardening Tips > January > ‘How to’? Plant a Tree

‘How to’? Plant a Tree

Planting a tree correctly will give it the best start in your garden. The ideal time of year to plant a container grown tree is between mid August and the end of May. If the tree is bareroot (a dormant tree without a pot or soil) it’s best to plant between November and March. Before you start, water your tree well (or soak if bareroot) and then follow these 10 easy steps to ensure your tree has the best chance to establish it’s root system and stay healthy. Scroll to the bottom of the page if you are planting a tree into a container.

Step 1 – Prepare the area – mark out an area at least twice the size of the container or root ball. Completely clear any other nearby plants, particularly turf as it will take valuable nutrients from the soil.


Step 2 – Dig the hole to be about 3cm deeper than the root ball. Leave crumbled soil at the bottom of the hole and if the soil is very clay, scour the edge of the hole with a fork so the roots are able to penetrate.

Step 3 – Knock in a post to support your tree. Make sure it is sturdy enough to support and prevent the tree being damaged by wind.

Step 4 – Enrich the soil – add a handful of bonemeal or poultry manure to the soil you have dug out and a little compost if the soil is heavy clay. Mix in well with a garden fork.

Step 5 –  It’s time to get the tree planted. For container grown trees, pull out of the pot and tease out the roots a little so they are free to establish into new soil. For bareroot if the roots are very long, prune them back a little rather than tucking them into the hole. 

Step 6 – Place the tree in the hole 2 to 3 cm away from the post, making sure it is standing straight and fill in with soil. Firm down the soil with your foot when it is securely in about three quarters of the way. 

Step 7 – Add more soil on top to form a small mound, leaving the soil loose so water is able to get through. Water well.


Step 8 – Secure your tree to the post – preferably with a rubber tree tie.  Place above a lower branch or tap in a nail just under the tie leaving it to protrude a little to stop the tie from slipping down.

Step 9 – Protect your tree – rabbits are hungry over winter and can damage a young tree. Use a plastic spiral or nail chicken wire to the post and fix together, leave the top edge ragged to help deter rabbits.

Step 10 – Stand back and admire your newly planted tree! Make sure it is kept well watered for the first few months, until its roots system is established enough for it to source enough moisture on its own.

(All ‘Step photos’ supplied by Frank Matthews, one of our tree suppliers)

Planting a tree into a container 

Choose a container with plenty of drainage holes. Choose a size that easily fits the root ball but avoid putting a small tree into a huge container. Frost-proof stone or terracotta pots are good for stability and prevent the tree from blowing over, but they can be very heavy, so a plastic container may be better suited if the pot needs moving regularly. Metal and wood pots are also options.

Put stones or broken pot pieces in the bottom of the container to stop compost seeping out of the drainage holes, use a loam based compost such as John Innes No. 3. Raise the pot off the ground using pot feet or similar. (Note certain trees need ericaceous compost – it should say on the label, but check with our plant area if you are unsure)

Planting a Salix caprea by GAP Photos

Aftercare – Keep well watered, trees in container will dry out much quicker than those in the ground, particularly if they are in a porous terracotta pot.

Give trees a yearly boost in spring by carefully scraping off the top layer of compost (to a depth of about 5cm) and refreshing with new compost. You can either mix in some control release fertiliser granules or regularly use a liquid feed.

In an exposed garden it is a good idea to protect potted trees over winter as the roots near the edge of the pot are vulnerable to frost damage and freezing temperatures. Put the pot in a more sheltered position or wrap with bubble wrap or hessian and secure in place with string.

For help choosing a tree suitable for a small garden, read our guide

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