Prepare the tree
For bare root trees, neatly cut away any broken or damaged roots. Soak the roots for a few hours prior to planting to allow them to absorb water.
Container-grown trees should have the plastic or metal containers removed completely. Carefully cut through the circling roots. Remove the top half of pressed peat/paper containers.
Balled and Burlapped, ”B & B” trees, should have all the ropes cut. Pull the burlap at least 1/3 of the way down; slit the remaining burlap to encourage root growth. If in a wire basket, cut away the top of the basket.
Remove all tags and labels.
Planting the Tree
Dig the planting hole shallow and broad. The width should be 2-3 times the diameter of the root ball, and the depth only as deep as the root ball.
Gently place the tree in the hole insuring it is perpendicular to the ground. Once you begin to backfill, it will be difficult to reposition the tree.
Partially backfill with the soil from the hole, using water to settle the soil. Finish backfilling the hole while gently but firmly packing the soil. Be sure that you leave the trunk flare (where the roots spread at the base of the tree) visible above the soil.
Soak the soil well, making sure no air pockets form between the roots. Wait until next year to fertilize.
For for a deeper dive into planting principles, check out Iowa State University’s “Tree Planting Basics” guide.