Very rarely do we — homeowners, hobby orchardists, novices — grow a tree from seed, and even less so, do we grow a tree from seed in the exact place it will spend the rest of its life. Typically, even for most food producers, trees come in pots (or bags) to be planted. While trees can and do grow from seeds, more often than not we find them in containers.

It’s not unusual to buy an apple tree that’s two or three years old. In fact, it’s almost always the case because an apple that grows from seed will not produce the same strain of apples as its parent. For that, new trees have to be grafted from old ones. Start playing with the birds and bees this way, and things start to feel a bit complicated for most of us. Instead, we take the simple route and buy a sapling from the nursery.


While that’s perfectly fine and, in all honesty, more likely to end in success, it’s also important to plant that potted tree correctly. Transitioning from the pot to the earth is a big step in a tree’s life, and cultivators who do it poorly are playing with disaster. Lots of saplings never make it to the next year. Luckily, this fate is easy to avoid with a few simple considerations.



Where the potted tree is planted is really important. Young trees tend to enjoy a good bit of sunlight, so they need that. They also tend to eventually become much larger, so understanding how the mature tree will eventually fit — height and width — into the space is important. Lastly, while most trees do enjoy a healthy quantity of water, many will not thrive in spots that are swampy and constantly saturated. Don’t put a tree in a spot where the environment is working against it.


Trees that are in pots will already have root balls, and they are going to require a much larger hole from whence to grow. Firstly, the hole is going to need to be roughly twice as big as the pot the tree is in. That’s depth and width. This gives the roots a bit of easy growing room before they hit firm soil, and it makes the soil drain better.


Some really keen growers like to do this a few days early. They fill the hole with loose organic matter such as dry grass or straw to protect it from drying out. They’ll water the hole to make sure the soil inside is nice and moist. This is said to encourage soil microorganisms to take up residence, which will benefit the tree.


The bottom of the hole will need to be refilled about halfway, and the soil can be lightly tamped down but not packed. Adding a bit of water will also help the soil settle before the tree is put in.

Potted trees need to be carefully removed from their pots so as not to damage the young trunk, branches, or roots. Also, the dirt from the container ideally will stay stuck to it. Then, the root ball should be put in, and the top of it should be slightly lower than the rim of the hole.

Holding the sapling or tree at this level, refill the hole to about halfway and water it. Let the water drain, pulling the soil down, then fill the hole all the way up. Water and drain again. Put a last layer of dirt in that brings the level to slightly higher than the rim of the hole.




Grass is an enemy to young trees, which habitually grow on well-mulched forest floors. To recreate this ideal growing environment, it’s important to heavily mulch the area around the tree. The mulch should form a circle with, at a minimum, a three-foot diameter. The mulch should be about four or five inches thick, and it should be kept a few inches away from the base of the tree’s trunk.


Lots of people like to sheet mulch around their trees. This includes sprinkling some manure, compost, worm castings, or fresh grass clippings on the ground for added nutrients. The area should then be covered with either a layer of cardboard or several layers of newspaper to kill the grass and prevent weeds from sprouting. On top of this should be more compost or top soil. Finally, a dense layer of wood chips or straw will finish it off.

Taking a little extra time to plant a tree with love will make for a much happier tree, and a happier tree, in turn, will be healthier, grow faster, and be more productive. Maintain the mulch, plant some biodiversity around it, and life for everyone should be great.

Lead Image Source: Pixabay