Potted trees
Photo Credit:
Kathy Wiederholt

Planting Containerized Trees and Shrubs

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Spring is the main season for planting new trees and shrubs. There has been a lot of university research over the years on how to best do this job and like most sciences, recommendations change over time. Here are some tips for planting those new additions to your landscape. 

  • Don’t plant too deeply – keep the main order roots just at the surface.
  • Only dig as deep as the prepared rootball is tall, but loosen the soil widely outward.
  • Cut off the outer circling roots that were in the pot.
  • Cut off any girdling roots.
  • Plant tree/shrub about 1 inch above grade to allow for settling.
  • If you must stake a tree, do it loosely to allow swaying and then remove the supports the next season.
Circling roots must be shaved off.
Photo Credit:
Purdue Extension
Circling roots must be shaved off.

Tree Installation: Process and Practices

The most radical part, for some people, is to cut off the outer roots that grew inside the pot. I do it every time I plant a potted plant and have not lost one yet! New roots will grow nicely into the prepared soil. Studies show that many city trees start to die when they are around 10-15 years old due to the circling roots from improper planting. Give your trees the best start!

Some reassuring advice from Penn State Extension: “Once you have purchased containerized trees and shrubs, be prepared to cut and manipulate roots before you plant it. According to research, it is best to sever roots with a sharp utility knife, handsaw, or a sharp spade. Don’t worry; it won’t hurt the plant. A containerized plant has 100% of its root system whereas, bareroot or balled-and-burlapped plants leave behind lots of roots when dug at the nursery. Studies show the roots that are cut regenerate quickly and grow into the landscape soil, helping the plant get established and survive dry spells.” -Penn State Extension. Container Grown Trees and Shrubs – Fix those roots before you plant. Vincent Cotrone, Extension Urban Forester, Northeast Region.

Here’s a link to a very good video on proper planting technique: Keep Indianapolis Beautiful Shows You How to Properly Plant a Tree

All this information and more can be found in a handout from the Carrington City Tree Board.

Kathy Wiederholt 
CREC Fruit Project Manager