How to plant trees

Providers of shade and habitat for animals, and the “green lungs” of our planet: the right way to plant trees.

A man standing in a garden next to a newly planted tree

Overview: Planting trees

  • In these instructions you will learn how to prepare the soil and the tree for planting, and how best to get it in the ground.

  • Trees produce oxygen and clean pollutants from the air. They offer important habitats and nutrient sources for many creatures, and protect the soil from drying out.

  • Nurseries sell three types of trees: potted, root-balled, and bare-root trees.

  • Soil quality, tree size and crown diameter are critical when selecting a planting location. The required distance from the property line must also be maintained.

  • After planting, it is important to give the tree plenty of water and mulch.

Why is it important to plant trees

Besides their decorative function, trees are an important component of our ecosystem:

Trees produce oxygen, clean the air of pollutants and recycle carbon dioxide, which is harmful to the environment in large quantities. Thus, trees are essential for all living beings on the planet and help to counteract rapid climate change.

Trees provide a habitat for animals and birds. Many species find food, nesting sites and shelter there. For example, leaves and fruits such as berries or nuts are a source of food for wildlife and humans. Bees, bumblebees and other insects feed on the pollen and nectar of flowering trees.

Trees are welcome sources of shade under which people and animals can escape the sun.


Planting trees: Preparation

Before you start planting, you should think about what kind of tree you would prefer and its future site.  Pro tip: planting time is crucial for a trees growth and health. 

Selecting a tree to plant

Generally, there are three types of trees:

  • Potted trees: These are trees grown in potting soil and large planting pots sometimes called containers. They are available year-round and also in full bloom. When buying, look for high quality and a healthy, finely branched root system on the tree. Note: You will find some trees are not grown in containers, but are placed in them for sale. This can cause less well-developed roots. 

  • Root-ball trees: These are trees that are cultivated in fields and removed from the ground with their root-balls attached. The root system is left relatively undamaged and is wrapped in a burlap cloth made of jute or plastic that keeps the soil together. If the cloth is made from jute rather than plastic, it can be planted with the tree, and then decomposes in the soil. Larger woody plants, evergreens and conifers are often available as root-ball trees. They are sold between October and March.

  • Bare-root trees: These trees arrive fresh from the field and with bare roots, i.e. without soil on them. Bare-root trees are only available in spring or autumn, and the woody plants offered in the spring come from cold storage. This means they are only available bare-rooted. Conifers and evergreen trees are not available in this form, as it would mean they would dry out in no time.

The best time to plant trees

Generally, you can plant a tree in spring or autumn. It rains more in these seasons than in summer, so the tree should get enough moisture and be able to grow better. Also, outside temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold. Early autumn, approximately between late September and early October, is best for planting trees. Deciduous woody plants have already lost their leaves and do not evaporate water. This gives them enough strength and time to root in before the approach of winter.

A man kneeling in the garden next to a containerised tree for planting

A suitable spot for planting a tree

The right soil conditions are important for a tree to feel comfortable and grow healthily in its new home. So before planting a tree in your yard, check the soil first and look for a plant that suits its characteristics. Because unlike in smaller perennial beds, it is difficult to improve the soil under a tree retrospectively, and a tree doesn’t transplant so easily either.

Soil type Tree species
Dry soil
  • Weeping birch
  • Cherry tree
  • Larch
  • English oak
  • Sycamore maple
  • Walnut tree
Chalky soil
  • Summer lilac
  • Laburnum
  • Cornelian cherry
  • Dogwood
  • Elderberry
  • Silver fir
  • Black locust
Clay soil
  • Crab Apple
  • Cherry
  • Plum 
  • Red Maple
  • English oak
  • Poplars

Later tree size and crown diameter are also factors you should consider when selecting a planting site. This information is available in the planting description or from a garden centre. This will help you anticipate how much shade the plant will cast and how much distance to maintain from your house, other plants, and the property line. To find the best position for a smaller tree species, use a branch or slat: take a branch that is about as long as the maximum height of the tree and position it vertically. This will help you visualize the growth and height of the plant.

Incidentally, regular pruning will not keep the tree small, just in shape. So in smaller yards plant smaller varieties of trees, such as the ball acacia, columnar flowering cherry and single-stem trees. Also, the soil must be cleared of weeds before planting.

Trees on the property line

Generally, the more a tree spreads and the taller it is, the greater the distance to the neighbouring plot must be. So, before you plant a tree, make sure you get detailed information from your local municipalities.

Working materials for tree planting lying on a lawn, including the STIHL GTA 26 cordless garden pruner.

Planting containerised trees: Instructions

Gloves on, because now it’s time to plant!

Things to keep in mind when planting root-ball and bare-root trees

  • To plant a root-ball tree, untie the cloth, open it up wide, and remove it if possible. Cloths made of natural materials can remain in the hole, where they will dissolve over time. In any case, no cords or wires should remain on the tree trunk. Materials made of plastic must also be removed. After planting, the base of the trunk should still protrude slightly, or about an inch, from the soil.

  • Bare-root trees should be left in a bucket or tub of water for a few hours before planting, to allow the roots to hydrate. Trim off crooked or dead roots with secateurs before planting. Remember that the plant must fit in the hole without its roots being compressed, and the roots must not be pushed directly into the solid garden soil.

A planted deciduous tree with a support stake in the garden.

Tying in a tree: which support is suitable for which tree?

The type of support depends on the growth shape and size of the tree.

Single vertical stake in the main wind direction

What for? For bare-root, smaller single-stem trees and container-grown trees with small root balls (such as fruit trees).
How? First drive the stake into the ground in the main wind direction, and then plant the tree. When doing this, the stake can be close to the trunk.

Single slanting stake

What for? For trees with a low crown base (maidens or two-year saplings), multi-shoot trees and conifers.
How? Place the stake against the main wind direction and at a sufficient distance from the root ball. Drive the stake in slightly at a 45° angle to the ground, bend the tree away for protection, and set the stake even more securely. If necessary, shorten the stake so that it protrudes no more than a hand’s width, and tie it in place.

Tripod (three stakes connected with cross-struts)

What for? Large trees with tall trunks and root balls, where the stakes cannot get close to the trunk without damaging the root ball.
How? First plant the tree, then insert the stakes in a triangle pattern, and at a sufficient distance from the trunk. Connect the stakes using cross-struts, and tie them to the tree.