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Planting a container tree

Make sure your trees have the best start in life and they will reward you with years of pleasure.

Although you can plant a container-grown tree at any time of year, autumn is without doubt the best season. The soil is still warm after the summer, yet is moist from the autumn rains. In such conditions, any new roots that are produced will grow quickly to settle the tree into the ground.

A tree is a very long-term feature in a garden so it's vital to choose the right one from the outset. Remember that as well as aesthetic attributes such as flower and leaf colour, they will also differ considerably in their ultimate height and spread. So, to avoid problems later, make sure you take these factors into account before you buy and think carefully about the tree's position in the garden.


  1. Water the tree in its container, if possible stand the container in a bucket of water overnight.
  2. Dig a hole, twice the diameter of the container and 15 cm (6 inches) deeper than the container. Place the soil removed from the hole on a sheet on one side. Use a garden fork to make a series of holes around the side of the hole.
  3. Mix a bag of 'tree and shrub' planting compost with the soil removed from the hole in a 50:50 mix. Put a 10 cm (4 inch) layer on the base of the hole and firm it down. Add a further 5 cm (2 inch) layer on top, do not firm down.
  4. Scatter a handful of slow release fertiliser granules into the hole.
  5. Take the tree out of the container, do not disturb the rootball. Place the rootball in the centre of the hole and use a straight edge across the top of the hole to check that the top of the rootball is level with the surrounding ground. If necessary, lift the rootball and add or remove soil from under the rootball so that the top of it is level.
  6. Carefully tease out some of the fibrous roots from around the rootball.
  7. Add some of the prepared soil/compost mix around the rootball to about 15 cm (6 inch) deep. Scatter a handful of slow release fertiliser granules on top of the new layer and firm down. Water the new layer with a full watering can of water.
  8. Continue adding the soil/compost mixture in layers of about 15 cm (6 inches) at a time, firming and watering each layer in turn. Continue to do this until the top of the rootball (and surrounding ground( is reached.
  9. Drive in a stake at about 45 degrees so that it crosses the truck between 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) above the top of the soil. Firmly fix the tree to the stake with a plastic tree tie, with the spacer between the truck and stake.
  10. Add a 7.5 cm (3 inch) layer of coarse bark chippings around the truck to keep the area free from weeds and conserve moisture.

Aftercare for a new tree:

  • It may be necessary to protect the trunk of the tree from local wildlife. Either form a length of small gauge chicken wire around the trunk or use a ready made one.
  • Regularly water newly planted trees during the first year of growth. This is especially important in summer months of hot, dry and windy weather.
  • In exposed areas it may be necessary to erect some form of shelter on the prevailing wind side to protect the young tree from wind damage.
  • Check the tree tie every spring and autumn and adjust it as necessary to allow for the increase in the trunk. The stake and tie can be removed during the third growing season.
  • Mulch the ground around the base of the tree every spring with bark chippings to reduce water loss and to keep the area free of grass and weeds.
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