COS150 Tree Challenge: Three steps to successfully planting your tree

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Trees are the largest and longest-living plants in our landscape. Here are three easy steps to ensure that your tree repays your planting investment for many years to come:

Don't forget to add your newly planted tree to our tree tracker! 

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Prepare those roots!

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the first and most important steps in planting containerized trees is to prepare the root ball by removing a significant portion of its surface area. You can remove 1½ inches from the bottom and sides of the root ball, or up to 25% of the total root mass, without causing long-term damage to the tree. You can use a saw to do this. This is important for combating circling roots, which if left unchecked, will literally strangle the tree as it approaches maturity.

Don’t plant too deep, let those roots breathe!

If trees are planted too deep, their roots can’t get the oxygen they need to grow. There should be a structural root within the first 2 inches of soil. The top of the tree’s root ball should be planted at grade level or even slightly above (2 inches max). It’s okay if you have a couple fibrous roots at the surface, because the last thing we’re going to do is ...


The very best thing you can do for a young tree is to give it at least 3 inches of a good wood mulch. Wood chips, shredded bark, leaves, or pine needles all make excellent mulch. Mulch an area at least 3 feet in every direction from the trunk.

Lastly, remember that water is your new tree’s most important input as well as its No. 1 threat. Stick your finger down into the root ball every day for at least a couple weeks to make sure that it’s moist, but not soggy, like a wrung-out sponge. After that, the only thing left to do is admire the beauty and growth of your new tree.

Also, be sure to add it to the COS 150: Tree Challenge tree tracker so that your tree counts toward the citywide goal of 18,071 new trees. The Tree Challenge is part of the City’s 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, celebration. All trees planted in 2019-2021 can count toward the goal.

Happy planting!

This article was submitted by Phelan Gardens, a marketing partner of the COS 150: Tree Challenge.

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