Invest in the future. Plant a tree.

Last Updated: 
August 4, 2008

In response to big events - happy or sad - some people plant a tree as a living memorial that will last for generations. Nurturing a tree can be a celebration that life goes on or a cherished reminder of a life well-lived.

To ensure the long life of the tree, care should be taken from the beginning.

Autumn is a good time to plant trees and shrubs in most parts of Oregon, according to Stephen Fitzgerald, Extension Forestry agent with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Although the days are cooler and rainfall may have increased, the soil temperatures stay adequately warm to sustain root growth. Fall planted trees and shrubs develop a strong root system and often have a head start on those planted in the spring.

Proper planting is most important to the tree's survival, says Fitzgerald. Dig a hole at least two feet wider than the size of the tree's root ball. Roughen the sides of the hole, remove rocks and backfill the hole with soil until the root collar of the tree will be at ground level or slightly higher. Do not place the tree too deep into the hole.

Take care not to loosen the soil from the roots or drop the tree on its root ball. Container-grown trees can be "pot bound" with roots tightly wrapped inside the pot. These roots should be cut vertically every six inches or so with a utility knife so that new roots will initiate outward rather than continuing in a circling pattern within the planting hole.

Place bare-root trees on a small pyramid of soil at the bottom of the planting hole so their roots cascade down the sides. The pyramid should hold the tree at ground level at the point where the roots flare from the trunk. It's important not to plant too deep and bury the root flare, which would encourage decay.

Stake your tree before backfilling the hole, to avoid skewering roots. Fill the hole halfway with soil and lightly tap to remove air pockets. Water slowly, and finish filling the hole to the root flare.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to fertilize trees when you plant them. However, improving the soil with peat moss or other organic matter will help the movement of water and nutrients in sandy soil or heavy clay.

Mulch in a broad circle around the base of your new tree to hold moisture and limit competition from weeds. But keep the mulch a few inches from the trunk to protect from pests and pathogens.

For more information on "Selecting, Planting and Caring for A New Tree," EC 1438. visit our on-line catalog. Our publications and video catalog at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog shows which publications are available on the Web and which can be ordered as printed publications.

Author: Peg Herring