8 Ways to Accidentally Kill Your Tree When Planting

Planting is not as simple as just digging a hole. Avoid these 8 behaviors to ensure that your tree will be happy and healthy for years to come.

When planting a tree, just digging a hole isn’t enough.

But if you know to look out for the following 8 pitfalls in the planting process, you will have a happy and healthy tree.

Planting Too Deep

Planting a tree too deeply is one of the easiest and most common ways to kill a newly planted tree. The root collar is the name given to the base of the tree trunk where it flares out before disappearing as roots underground. This root collar must be level or just above the surrounding grade. When the root collar is below grade, it will eventually become buried by dirt and debris. This keeps the trunk moist, leading to rot that will kill the tree over time.

Placing Mulch Too Close to the Trunk

Planting a tree too deeply is not the only way to damage the base of the tree. Accidentally burying it by piling too much mulch around the trunk can also cause damage. Mulch is essential to the health of young trees, so thankfully this problem is easily prevented: just be sure that mulch is 4-6 inches away from the base of the tree.

Choosing the Wrong Location

Choosing the wrong place to plant a tree is another common planting mistake. Planting a certain species in the wrong spot can shorten its lifespan. This mistake can also cause damage to nearby structures and generate a host of other issues. Imagine a large oak tree planted in a tiny plot of grass. It will quickly outgrow the space it has been allotted. Well before planting, choose a species based on a variety of parameters including the size of the tree at maturity, the location of utility lines, sun and water requirements, and region suitability. Choosing the right species and planting in the right place will ensure that your tree stays healthier for longer.

Adding Fertilizer Too Soon

Using fertilizer during or immediately after planting a tree can damage roots by burning them. Trees are in shock from being transplanted and need to get used to their new environment without extra additives. Plus, root growth in newly planted trees is not enhanced by fertilizer.

Forgetting to Water Consistently

Water is key to the growth of trees. When they are not watered consistently, trees become stressed, making them more vulnerable to disease and insect attacks. Watering trees in the first couple of years after planting is especially important to trees’ development of new roots.


On the flip side, don’t forget that too much water is sometimes worse than not enough. Oversaturation can drown the root system, loosen root structures, and encourage disease.

Not Removing from Burlap or Container Properly

For plants that are grown in containers, it’s important to make sure the roots are not wrapped tightly around the outside of the rootball. If they are, the outside of the rootball must be scored vertically with a knife. For balled and burlapped plants, it’s best to remove the upper half of the burlap and wire cage while being mindful to keep the root ball intact. Some types of treated or synthetic burlap can take years to decompose; in the meantime, they may damage roots or restrict their growth.

Forgetting to Remove Staking System

In the rare cases where a staking system needs to be installed, it is important to remember to remove it after the first or second year. If it’s not removed, the staking system can girdle the tree and kill it above the restricted section.

Remember that proper planting is critical to a tree's health. What species of tree you choose to plant and how you plant it will determine whether it lives a healthy life or a short life plagued with issues.

Have any specific planting questions? Have a tip we haven’t listed here? Send us a message. We love to hear how you are keeping your trees healthy and happy.

Like this article? Pass it on.

Call Leaf & Limb