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Posted on: November 10, 2022

Tree Planting Tips from Hanover County Master Gardeners

group planting a tree

Contributed by Susan Higgins, Hanover County Master Gardener Intern 

Soon, a small stand of 39 new trees will take root in the long narrow greenspace that runs between Frontage Road and Route 1 in Ashland. The trees, made possible by a grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry, are part of a program to create sustained canopy cover, which will help improve water quality in the Commonwealth. 

If you are inspired by the arrival of Ashland’s newest arboreal additions and want to plant a tree in your own yard, visit and search for our “Planting Trees” publication (HORT-248NP) and/ or follow these ten simple steps for planting a tree from The Arbor Day Foundation:

Right tree, right place 

Match the cultural needs of your tree to the growing conditions in your yard by considering things like soil composition, water availability, light requirements, and the crown spread of the mature tree. The Virginia Native Plant Finder is a helpful online resource. 

Take a soil test

A soil test will detect nutrient deficiencies, pH imbalances, or excess soluble salts that could inhibit the health of your tree. Soil test results from the Virginia Tech Soil Testing Lab include recommendations for amending the soil to bring nutrients to desired levels. Soil test kits are available at the Hanover County office of Virginia Cooperative Extension (13015 Taylor Complex Lane, Ashland) or online

Dig a hole

Dig a hole with sloping sides that are the same depth as the root ball itself and 2-3 times as wide.

Prepare the roots

Working on a tarp, gently slip the root ball out of its container and lay the tree on its side, keeping the soil intact. Carefully loosen the visible network of roots on the surface of the root mass, removing any that have grown to encircle it.  

Position the tree

Center the tree in the prepared hole so that the root ball rests on undisturbed soil. The root flare, where the trunk widens to become roots, should be just visible at ground level. Holding the tree upright, backfill with the original soil to just below the root flare, and tamping lightly to eliminate air pockets.   

Build a soil berm

Create a low ring of soil shaped like a donut about 10-12 inches from the trunk. Called a soil berm, it will serve as a basin or bowl that will contain as much as 10 gallons of water.  

Stake and tie  

Drive a pair of “lodge pole” stakes perpendicular to the ground about 2” from the outermost edge of the root ball to support the tree until its roots are established. Loop soft fabric or a rubber tie in a figure-eight pattern around the tree trunk, nailing both ends to the stake.  


Fill the soil berm with water. Continue watering throughout the first year until the tree is fully established. In dry weather, water generously every 7–10 days. Soil and mulch should be moist but not soggy. 


Spread a 2-4-inch-deep layer of mulch in a 3-foot diameter disk around the base of the tree, making sure that the mulch does not touch the trunk itself. 


Avoid fertilizer until after the first growing season. It will stimulate excessive leaf growth at the expense of root growth, leaving the new tree susceptible to drought stress. 

As always, if you have any plant-related questions, please reach out to the Hanover Master Gardeners at (804) 752-4310 or  

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law.

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