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Yard Tree Planting and Care

Before picking up your yard tree, consider where you will plant your tree and how you’ll get it home. After picking up your yard tree, follow the simple tips below to help it survive and thrive. If you have questions or think there might be an issue with your tree, check out our resources.

Detailed
Care Guide
Getting Your
Tree Home Safely

Where to Plant

Where to plant your yard tree is a big decision! Here are a few tips to make sure you plant the right tree in the right place.

  • Consider how much sunlight your tree will need to thrive, as well as how big your tree will be in 20-30 years. Check out our species fact sheets for more information.
  • Make sure to plant your tree at least 3’ from pavement or fencing, 15’ from buildings, and 25’ from overhead electrical wires if it will grow taller than 30’.
  • Remember: Your tree must be planted in the ground, and it must be planted in a yard space on private property. If planted in a container or in the sidewalk, your tree will not survive.

Still not sure where to plant? Check out these tips from the Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service.

How to Care for Your New Tree

Water your tree

Water!

Carefully watering your new tree is critical to helping it survive and thrive! For the first two years after planting, water your new tree 15-20 gallons a week from the time it buds out in the spring until it loses its leaves in the fall and/or the ground freezes (generally March through December). Make sure to water slowly and in the center of the mulch ring so the water can soak deep into the soil and the roots can absorb it gradually. We recommend using a hose on slow drip, a tree watering bag, or a 5-gallon bucket with holes punched through the bottom. If you use a watering bag, check it for debris and remove it in winter.

Multch

Mulch

Use organic composted mulch, wood chips, or pine needles to make a ring of mulch around your tree that is 3’ wide and 3’’ deep. Make sure to keep the mulch 3’’ inches away from the trunk so the root flare is still exposed to the air. When finished, the mulch should look like a donut (a wide, flat circle) rather than a volcano (piled up around the trunk). Apply fresh mulch to your tree as needed in the spring and fall, making sure to remove mulch that has been contaminated by de-icing salts or dog waste. Avoid using non-organic materials like rocks/gravel, bricks, or rubber. Philly residents can get free mulch at the Fairmount Park Organic Recycling Center.

Prune

Prune only dead, diseased, or damaged branches on newly planted trees. After the first two years, when your tree has begun to establish in its new home, it’s best to lightly prune your trees every 2-3 years. Fall and winter are the best time to prune because not only are the trees dormant during this time, you also have the added bonus of a clear view of the tree’s structure without the obstruction of foliage. Fruit trees require special pruning care; please see the handout on fruit trees for more information.

Weed and keep clean

Make sure to protect your tree from toxic substances like pet waste, litter and garbage, cigarette butts, and rock salt or other chemical ice melting products. We also recommend keeping your tree’s root zone free of grass, weeds, and other plants so the roots don’t have to compete for water and nutrients. If you do plant flowers near your tree, make sure to plant annuals rather than perennials.

Protect

Make sure to protect your tree from lawnmowers and other machines—including vehicles and bicycles—which can quickly and easily damage the bark and trunk.

Loosen soil

Using a hand trowel or small shovel, loosen the top 2-3” of soil around the base of your tree, which will help to air and water penetrate the soil and reach the roots. Just be careful not to damage the roots!

Don’t fertilize

Trees do not need fertilizer, chemicals, or potting soil to thrive. In fact, applying these materials to young and newly planted trees often results in shock, which can easily kill your tree. Also avoid using weed killers and herbicides near your tree, especially those that kill broadleaved weeds.

Need help? Call a certified arborist.

Although Philadelphia Parks & Recreation provides pruning and removal services for street trees (see treephilly.org or call 215-685-4363), we cannot offer these services for trees on private property. If you are worried that your tree is diseased or infested, or if the tree is so large that you cannot prune it with both feet on the ground, please call a certified arborist. Make sure the arborist is certified and in good standing with the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)by checking online by clicking here or by calling the Penn-Del ISA Chapter at (717) 412-7473. Please refer to the Resources section for additional information.