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How to Plant Shade Trees

How to Plant Shade Trees

Why Plant a Shade Tree?

There are so many great reasons to plant a shade tree. You’ll be gaining much-needed shade in the hot summer months, better air quality, and privacy. Shade trees help to lower the temperature inside and outside your house in the heat of summer, and in the cold winter months they protect your home by blocking strong winds, thereby reducing energy costs all year.

Did you know that trees also protect your property during heavy rainfalls? Tree roots slow down water flow and reduce erosion.

Trees add beauty and value to your home, property and neighborhood. They provide shelter and food for wildlife, and give us an overall feeling of well-being.

If you plant your tree with care, it will flourish, giving you many years of enjoyment. Rough River Hardware can provide some tips on how to start planting your first tree.

Select a Good Shade Tree

Your local nursery will help you find a hardy tree that will grow well in your area, climate, and soil conditions. If you plan on planting more than one tree, it’s a good idea to plant a variety of species to minimize the chance of tree loss due to pests and disease.

In the hot summer months, a large canopied deciduous tree will cool your home, and in the winter it will let sunshine through to help warm your home. Coniferous trees are also a good choice for shade and shelter, but keep in mind that they can block the warming sun from your home and property in the winter months.

When possible, select a tree that is native to your area so it will have the best chance of thriving in your local climate and soil. Find out if the tree you want will be in scale with your house and property when it reaches its mature size.

Tip – For best results, choose a young, smaller, healthy tree, as it will have more roots and will grow faster than a larger tree that has been wrapped in burlap and wire.

A sampling of the many deciduous shade trees available

  • Red Oak
  • River Birch
  • Sugar Maple
  • Freeman Maple
  • Tulip Tree
  • Elm
  • Northern Catalpa
  • Hackberry
  • Yellowwood
  • Honey Locust
  • Eastern Redbud

Coniferous shade trees

  • Eastern White Pine
  • Fraser
  • Cedar
  • Hemlock
  • Balsam Fir
  • White Spruce

Where to Plant Your Shade Tree?

You probably already know where you need shade, but you still need to consider a few things before you start digging the hole.

The first and most important thing to do before you dig a hole for your tree is to contact your local utility company to locate any utility cables or wires in the ground.

Estimate how your growing tree will affect the sight lines and access to pathways and driveways in the future. Avoid planting your tree where it could block street signage or touch overhead wires.

Plant your tree between 20 to 40 feet away from your house to give it enough space to grow, and keep it at least 16 to 20 feet away from other trees. Ideally, plant your tree just to the south or southwest of the area you want to shade. Make sure that the spot you have chosen won’t block precious sunlight from reaching your vegetable or flower garden.

Proper Watering is Crucial

Although newly planted trees need lots of water, don’t overwater. The trick is to water often but in smaller amounts to keep the soil moist but not saturated.

Feel the moisture level of the soil with your finger. If it is saturated, then hold off on watering.

Follow these guidelines to make sure you are watering your tree properly:

  1. Water every day in the first two weeks after planting your tree.
  2. After that, water every two to three days for the next 12 to 18 months.
  3. Monitor how well the soil dries and reduce the amount of water if the soil becomes saturated.

When is the Best Time to Plant a Shade Tree?

You can plant your tree in the spring, fall and any time of the year when the ground is not frozen and there is no risk of frost.

Plant your tree promptly

Once you have your tree at home, it’s best to plant it right away. If you can’t plant it that day, keep it in a sheltered area out of the sun, and water it regularly.

Dig and prepare the hole

The hole needs to be two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball or container, and about 8” deeper than the plant’s container.

To help the roots penetrate the soil, you can roughen the sides and bottom of the hole.

Some tree experts recommend sprinkling a handful of bone meal or a high phosphorus fertilizer into the hole.

If your tree is in a container, you will need to trim the roots before you plant to ensure that it roots properly.

If your tree is in a pot, turn it on its side, slide the root ball out of the pot and gently lower it into the hole.

Drop the tree into the hole making sure the root collar, where the roots and trunk join, are at the same level or a bit higher than the hole depth.

If your tree’s root ball is wrapped in burlap, remove the burlap after you have placed the tree in the hole. Carefully cut the burlap and wire basket to avoid cutting the roots.

Plant your tree so that the point where the trunk is larger (trunk flare), is above the soil level. Check that your tree is standing straight before refilling the hole.

Refill the hole

Once you have refilled the hole with the soil you removed, tamp the soil down to remove any air pockets. Add a generous amount of water before adding more soil.

Never cover the trunk with soil, as the lack of air will slowly kill your tree. Planting your tree too deep will also hinder its health and growth.


Spread natural mulch around your tree, leaving about three inches of space between the trunk and the mulch. Mulch will help keep the soil moist and will help keep the weeds at bay.

What Else Should You Know?

Staking your tree

If your tree is planted on a slope, or in shallow soil or a very windy area, you may need to support it with a stake. Otherwise, staking is not necessary as the tree will be able to support itself. If you do choose to stake your tree, remember to remove the stake after one year, before the tree grows around it.

Protect your tree from wildlife

To prevent your newly planted tree from being nibbled on by rabbits, mice, and deer, you can use chicken wire mesh, galvanized hardware cloth, steel sheeting, biodegradable plastic mesh tubing, or solid plastic sleeves.

To prune or not to prune

And finally, Rough River Hardware would suggest you memorize the three “d’s” of pruning: prune branches that are dead, damaged, or dangerous. Usually, you can prune your tree in late fall or early spring but always check the best time for your tree.

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