Planting a tree

Martyn Cox

Gardening expert Martyn Cox explains how to plant a tree, including planting tips for bare-root and containerised trees.

Although tree planting isn’t difficult, trees can often struggle to grow if planted poorly, so it pays to get them off to a flying start by ensuring your method is up to scratch. Here’s my foolproof guide.

When to plant

Autumn is a great time to plant both container and bare root trees as they will take advantage of the warm, moist soil and start to establish before winter arrives, although container-grown trees can be planted in spring and summer too.

Preparing the soil

Before planting your tree remove any weeds from the site, either by hand or with a special weeding device if there are any stubborn, deep-rooted perennials. Herbicides may be necessary on ground that is infested with weeds. If you’re planting into a lawn, strip away a circle of turf 1m (3½ft) in diameter.

Read our guide to weed control covers.

Planting a container-grown tree

If planting a container-grown tree, dig a hole that’s twice the width of the tree’s root ball and a bit deeper. If the bottom of the hole is compacted, break the soil up with a fork and prick the sides to allow roots to penetrate.

Place the tree in the centre of the hole and fill with soil, firming it as you go. When the hole is full the top of the root ball should be just below the surface. 

Firm down the soil with your heel, water and finish with a 5cm (2in) layer of bark chippings.

Planting a bare-root tree

Bare root trees, which are lifted from the nurseryman’s field, can be planted in the same way, but you need to ensure the tree is planted at the same level as it was growing before. To do this, put a cane across the hole to ensure the soil mark on the stem is level with the surface. Add or remove soil if necessary.

Read our guide to bare-root planting.

Staking your trees

Small trees up to about 3ft do not need staking, but any larger and they will need some support. Use tree stakes hammered into the ground vertically for bare root tree and stakes at 45 degrees for container grown trees. Secure to the tree with plastic buckle ties, PVC tubing or expanding rubber belts.

You will often see trees that have been staked for many years, but as a rule stakes should only be in the ground for 18 months before they are removed. You often see trees on the street that are staked for years, but this is unnecessary and if needed, it usually implies that there’s something wrong with the tree or in the way it was originally planted out.


Keep plants well watered and remove any weeds that appear. Check ties regularly during the growing year, especially over autumn and winter when windy weather can loosen ties – it will also be necessary to relax ties as stems expand to prevent them restricting growth.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.