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Planting Large Specimen Trees - Quick Checklist

Planting Trees

Plan for off loading and placing of tree. It is the customer’s responsibility to off load the tree. If your contractor is not comfortable planting the tree we can install in Southern California and have references in other areas. Ascertain that the equipment and personnel you have will safely handle the weight by consulting the weights given in the Specimen Tree Specs chart. If hiring a crane company request a site visit and quote.

Planting hole

Size - Hole depth should allow the soil surface of the tree to sit at least 3” above your final grade. Do not over dig the depth and backfill to achieve proper depth. This backfill will settle and over time may result in the tree root ball being planted to deep. Minimum width is specified in the table, Specimen Tree Specs. Digging the hole 2 to 4 times wider than the box is very helpful if you have compacted soil.

Drainage - If there is any chance of compacted or clay soil affecting drainage a drainage test should be performed as follows: Step 1. Fill the planting hole completely with water. Let it drain and note if water infiltrates out at less than 1” per hour or 2’ per day. If it is less than 1” per hour go to step 2. If it is more than 1’ per hour refill the hole and do the test again. If it drains faster than 1”/hour no drainage system is necessary. Step 2,(for less than 1” per hour drainage) Install 3” perforated pipe with a fabric sock circling the bottom of the root ball and connect to a gravity drain and 2 vertical standpipes . If a gravity drain is not feasible extra care & monitoring must be done to insure the tree is not getting over watered and the bottom of the rootball staying constantly wet.


Offloading - It is easy to damage trees during the offloading process so consult the detailed planting instructions if you are not experienced, or hire someone who is experienced.

Planting - The box bottom is left on. Check to make sure the top of the root ball is at least 3” above grade and make sure no fill soil is ever added near the trunk. Do not remove the sides until you are sure the tree is set in straight and rotated to the desired orientation. Guying may be required on trees over 20’ tall. Remove the sides, install the drainage system, and backfill with your native soil. Do not amend the backfill soil unless you have over excavated the hole 2 to 4 times the width of the box and have a heavy clay or compacted soil. Do not place gravel or sand under the root ball.

Watering - Large boxed trees are purposely shipped dry so it is critical that the tree receive a through soaking the day it you receive it. Construct 2 concentric soil berms to provide watering basins at least one foot in depth. The inner berm is placed just inside the tree root ball. The outer berm is place just outside the backfilled soil. Fill these basins to a 12” depth and allow them to drain in at least 3 times the day of planting. Start the normal watering cycle 3-6 days after the initial heavy watering.

Post planting care

Watering - Improper watering is responsible for 80%+ of post planting problems. After the first day’s initial heavy watering the goal is to apply water after the soil, at a depth of 6”-18”, has dried out to slightly moist but not powder dry. The only practical way to check the soil at that depth is to use a soil probe or soil moisture sensor. We recommend the use of Watermark soil sensors. Large boxed trees should have their own dedicated irrigation system or be hand watered for the first year. Your goal is apply water periodically in sufficient amounts to keep the root zone, (generally at 6” to 30” deep) in a range between saturation, (the day of watering) and only slightly moist. Applying water too frequently keeps the soil too near saturation which will rot the roots and applying too much water per application keep the bottom of the root ball saturated, even though the top dries sufficiently. Since roots will not populate the backfill soil in significant amounts for 3-6 months you need to check moisture in the root ball area. The back fill area will need water very infrequently at the start since there are no or few roots utilizing the water. For starters, apply water on to three times a week in sufficient amounts to saturate to a depth of 30”. Frequency can vary from once a month if it is a very rainy January, to 3 times a week if it is a hot windy Santa Ana September. Planting ground cover, lawn or flowers which require normal watering in the drip line area risks keeping the soil too wet for the tree. It is best to mulch under the tree or plant drought tolerant plants once the tree is established. The berms that were built to facilitate the initial soaking can be removed so long as you have a system the wets the root ball adequately. Drip, bubbler or spray systems can do this.

Fertilizing and pruning - There is no need for any fertilizer for the first 3-6 months as the tree arrives with sufficient amounts. After that time you may apply a slow release, fertilizer per the rate on the container. When pruning, do not remove over 10% of the green foliage the first year.