Yard Tree Planting and Care

Before bringing home a yard tree, consider where you will plant your tree and how you will get it home. Follow the simple tips below to help it survive and thrive. If you have questions about trees or how to take care of your tree, call or email the TreePhilly Team for some advice.

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Where to Plant Your Tree
Keep Clean and Weed
Loosen Soil
Stake Leaning Trees
Do not fertilize!

Where to Plant

Where to plant your yard tree is a big decision! Check out our Tree Siting Guide and follow these tips to make sure you plant the right tree in the right place.

  • How much sun does your yard get? Are there certain areas that get more sun than others? Trees that prefer full sun, need at least six hours of sun everyday, while trees that prefer partial shade need three to six hours of sun. You can see how much sun your tree prefers by checking our tree info sheets!
  • How big will your tree get? Imagine your tree in 20 years. What will it look like? See your tree info sheet to get an idea!
  • Look up and down. Check your tree info sheet to see if you should be concerned about wires, pavement, or pipes. If your tree is a medium or large tree, make sure there are no overhead utility wires near where you will plant your tree. Trees should ideally be planted at least 3 ft away from pavement, especially if it grows a big trunk or has exploring roots.
  • How far from your house should you plant? Imagine your tree in 20 years. How close will it be to your house? See your tree info sheet to get an idea! Large trees should ideally be planted at least 15 ft from buildings.
  • Want to save money on your heating and cooling bills? Plant your tree where you get the most sun in the summer. Plant trees on the north side of your house to reduce cold winter winds. For more information on where to plant your tree to help your budget, check out i-Tree
  • Remember: Your tree must be planted in the ground, and it must be planted in a yard space on private property. The sidewalk and containers are harsh environments for young trees. Planting your tree in your yard in the ground will give your tree its best chance at survival.

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


Young trees need water to survive and thrive! For the first two years after planting, give your tree 10 gallons of water once or twice per week from when you first see buds and leaves in the spring until the leaves have dropped in the fall (generally March through December). Stay aware of the weather! If it has rained a lot this week, water your tree less. If it had been dry and hot, give your tree an extra big drink. Watering slowly and near the trunk helps the water soak deep into the soil so all the roots can absorb the water gradually.

Here are some of our favorite watering methods:

  • Punch a hole in a 5-gallon bucket and place it next to your tree. Fill the bucket 2-4 times, letting the water slowly drain out the bottom.
  • Leave a hose on a slow drip next to your tree for one hour
  • Stand with your hose at medium pressure or on shower mode for 5-8 miuntes.
  • If you use a watering bag, check it frequently for debris and make sure to remove it in winter.


Mulching your tree helps it to keep its roots moist, stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter, reduces competition from other plants, and protect the tree from lawnmowers.

Use organic composted mulch, wood chips, or pine needles to make a ring of mulch around your tree. Follow the rule of 3-3-3: make the ring 3’ wide and 3’’ deep and leave a 3’’ gap between the mulch and the tree’s trunk so the root flare at the base of the trunk is still exposed to the air. When finished, the mulch should look like a donut (a wide, flat circle). Avoid mulch volcanoes or a tall pile of mulch around the tree’s trunk.

Apply fresh mulch to your tree each spring, 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 only dead, diseased, or damaged branches in the first two years after you plant your tree.

After the first two years, when your tree is established in its new home, it’s best to lightly prune your trees every 2-3 years. Unless limbs are dead, diseased, or dying, it is best to prune your tree in the fall and winter when the trees are dormant and you have a clear view of any weak or crossing limbs.

Fruit tree require special pruning care, but with practice your will reap the rewards! For information on fruit tree pruning, see Philly Orchard Project’s Pruning Guide or attend one of their pruning workshops.

Remember: Safety always comes first! Be careful to protect your head and your eyes while pruning your tree. If you need a ladder to prune your tree, please call an arborist.

Keep Clean and Weed

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. Grass and other plants can compete with your tree for root space and nutrients. We recommend keeping your tree’s root zone mulched and free of grass, weeds, and other plants.


Make sure to protect your tree from lawnmowers, cars, bicycles, and deer can quickly and easily damage the bark and trunk. Mulching the base of your tree, installing a tree guard or wire cage around your tree can help protect its fragile bark. Be sure to check on the tree guard each year to make sure the tree has enough room to grow!

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 water to penetrate the soil and reach the roots. Just be careful not to damage the roots!

Stake leaning trees

Trees do not usually need staking. Only stake your young tree if it is leaning or you live somewhere that experiences a lot of rain or very loose, wet soil.

To stake a leaning tree you will need one or two wooden or metal stakes and arbor tie or another soft material that will not damage the vulnerable bark. Identify where on the tree’s trunk needs to be steadied. This is how high your stakes will need to be Place the stakes 1.5′ away from the tree in the opposite direction from where the tree is leaning. Loosely tie the arbor tie around the stake and the tree, leaving enough slack so the tree can sway in the wind. Do not use wire or rope to tie the tree back. These materials can injure or even kill your tree. Remove the stakes after one year. Properly watering and caring for your tree can help your tree develop a healthy root system that will support the tree once the stakes are removed.

Do not 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. Fertilizer should only be used as medicine if you know that the tree is sick or in need of special care. Also avoid using weed killers and herbicides near your tree, especially those that kill broad-leaved weeds as these can harm or even kill your tree.

Need help? Call a certified arborist.

Philadelphia Parks & Recreation can only provides pruning and removal services for street trees. We cannot offer pruning or removal services for yard trees on private property.

If you are worried that your tree is diseased or infested, please call a certified arborist. 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.