Learn to plant and maintain strong, healthy trees that will thrive for generations.

How to Plant

It takes three years for a young tree to establish a solid root system and strong trunk. By following these planting instructions for your 5 gallon tree, it will get the best start for a long and healthy life. 

Planting Your Young Tree

  • Remove and discard grass and weeds in a 4-foot-wide circle.
  • Water the tree and remove it from the container. 
  • Identify and expose the true root flare where the trunk flares out to meet the first major roots. This can be buried under soil while at the nursery. 
  • Vigorously shake away any loose soil and liberate the rootball - thoroughly loosen any fine roots, pointing them outward. Prune off any circling or kinked roots with a sharp tool. Place the tree back in its pot.
  • Dig a wide, shallow hole 4 feet wide and only as deep as the rootball from the root flare to the bottommost roots. Score the sides of the hole so the hole is not smooth.
  • Place the root ball in the hole so the root flare is at or just above the soil line. Use a stake to check your planting height - the root flare should be just in the middle of the stake. 
  • Place the existing soil back in the hole; the final soil line should sit just at the root flare. Do not add any store bought soil, fertilizers, or amendments.
  • If the tree cannot support itself on its own, install 2 stakes 18 inches away from the trunk on opposite sides. Tie the tree loosely in one spot to these stakes in the bottom 2/3 of the trunk, leaving it loose enough to sway several inches in each direction.
  • Remove the nursery stake that was tied to the tree.
  • Apply 1 inch of compost over the soil, then apply 4-6 inches of natural wood chip mulch in a fluffy donut shape around the tree, keeping compost and mulch 4 inches away from the trunk. 
  • Water the tree slowly and deeply with 10 gallons of water.


The key to growing healthy and beautiful trees is directly related to the amount of care your newly-planted trees receive. Although caring for your trees does require scheduled attention by you, it is not difficult or demanding work. Please take care of your trees so that they may provide years of shade and beauty. Learn more about watering and mulching.

Tree Survival Tips


Check soil moisture for newly planted trees. Do not be fooled by surface soil conditions: check the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. The soil should be moist, not soggy.


If you carefully followed our planting instructions, your tree's root flare (where trunk meets the roots) should be at or just above ground level. Trees can sometimes sink after a good rain or overwatering, be sure to watch to make sure your tree's root flare does not sink below ground level where it can suffocate.

If the tree has sunk into the ground, lift the tree out of the soil and replant it at ground level.


Be sure that you have properly staked the tree to allow for several inches of movement to encourage a strong trunk. Learn more about staking

Free Shade Trees available through our Sacramento Shade Program


Print this guide and have it with you on planting day.