Planting Trees and Shrubs

Fall Gardening| Landscaping

Trees and shrubs are a great addition to your landscape for so many reasons.  Trees are a great benefit to the environment and add beautiful color to your landscape, some of them all year long. Shrubs are also a great choice!  They come in so many sizes, many of them bloom or produce berries, and most of them provide color all year long!

Once trees and shrubs are established, they usually do great.  But to make sure that happens, you want to plant your tree and shrub correctly.  We provide our guests with Planting and Watering Instructions, and it is a great resource to keep on hand. Today’s post will include all of that information and a little more that is specific to planting trees and shrubs.  

For Gardens Sake Landscape Work

Location, location, location

Trees and shrubs are so cute in their pots at the nursery, but most all of them will grow to be much larger (kind of like kids that way).  Take into consideration what size the tree or shrub will grow in to (meaning maturity). Check the label for height and width specifications or ask one of the associates in the Garden Center.  Also, the NC State extension site has a listing of common small-medium height trees.  

Once you have figured out the right spot based on the tree or shrub size, you will want to get prepared before you plant.  Here is what you will need:

  • The plant(s) purchased from FGS (Duh.)
  • Shovel (Also duh.)
  • Soil Amendment (We recommend our Landscape Planting Mix.)
  • Trowel or Knife (just in case)
  • Mulch (optional, but a great choice)


While digging a hole might seem like a basic concept, and it is, it’s really important to dig the hole the correct size.  Digging the hole too deep is one reason why many trees and shrubs die. The hole should be only as deep as the root ball, but 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball.  If you want to make sure you have the size right, consider measuring and calculating how wide the hole should be instead of just guessing.

If you need to test your soil for drainage, now is the time to do it. Fill the hole with water.  Come back two hours later. If the hole still has water in it, you know you have some significant drainage issues and you may want to consider planting the tree or shrub in a different location. If you can’t (or don’t want to) change the location, you will want to amend the hole well with Vole Block (used to be called Permatill) which helps with the drainage.  You also will plant the root ball higher than normal.


Before planting, you will need to prepare the soil to fill the hole with.  Mix some of the existing, native soil with Landscape Planting Mix or compost.  The soil in our area needs some amendment since it is predominantly clay. Your tree or shrub will thank you (and do much better) if you provide it with the nutrients it needs.  Remember plants are living things!

To remove the tree or shrub from the container, lay it on its side and slide it out of the container.  Do not lift the tree or shrub out of the container by its trunk or branches. If you cannot slide it out because it is pot-bound, you can simply cut the container and remove it that way.  Then you should loosen the roots some. If the tree or shrub is root bound and you can’t do this by hand, take a trowel or knife and cut down into the roots every couple of inches all the way around the rootball. Don’t worry…you won’t hurt the plant by doing this.  Loosening the roots will help the roots spread and get established in their new home.

Once you have loosened the roots, lift the plant by the root ball and place it in the hole.  It is very important that the top of the root ball is level with the ground surrounding the hole (unless you had to plant high due to drainage issues), so double check.  Make sure that the tree or shrub is is upright and straight. No one wants a leaning tree or shrub (unless you do, and then, well, do you).

Fill the space around the root ball halfway with soil you prepared.  Pat the soil down with your hands or feet. Then, continue filling the hole with soil until it is filled right up to the top of the root ball.  If you are planting a tree, make sure you do NOT cover the tree flare (where the tree’s roots begin to spread at the base of the tree).


Once the planting is finished, you need to water your tree or shrub.  Water deeply. Allow the water to soak in, and then repeat that process a few times.  

Watering in the first two weeks is critical to the survival of your plant.  You want the roots to stay moist, but not soaked. Check for soil moisture 6-8 inches into the soil with your finger or a broomstick, and water every other day.  After those first two weeks, water once a week if you are not getting at least an inch of rain. As a rule of thumb, here are the amounts that your tree or shrub needs:

Small Shrub 4-5 gallons
Large Shrub 7-10 gallons
Small Tree 7-10 gallons
Large Tree 10-20 gallons

Not sure how to tell when you have achieved that amount? Here’s a tip: time how long it takes you to fill a gallon container.  Then, when you water, multiply that time by the number of gallons your plant needs.


Mulching around your tree or shrub will look great, and it will help keep moisture in.  You should mulch no less than 2-3 inches deep. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the base of the tree or shrub.  Leave a few inches around the base of the plant uncovered.


Generally, a tree or shrub does not need a lot of fertilizer in the first year, but that will change over time.  If you do fertilize, ONLY use a slow-release fertilizer.  Do NOT use a liquid fertilizer.  Check out this site for some guidance.

To Stake or Not to Stake

Not all trees will require staking.  Use your best judgment, and when in doubt, check with one of our knowledgeable associates at the Garden Center.

Boom.  You’re done!  Sit back and enjoy your labor.  If it is a fruit tree, then enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Happy planting, friends!