Garden Coaching – Digging a hole for planting a tree or a shrub




As the maintenance team from the Raleigh Garden Club was working in the Viburnum Garden at the JC Raulston Arboretum, Mark Weathington, Assistant Director and Curator of Collections reminds us not to plant too deep.  He recognized he was speaking to a group of experienced gardeners, but felt the need to remind us anyway – and justly so.  It is one of THE most common mistakes in planting plants.




It is recommended to dig a hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the diameter of the root ball.  This space gives roots a place to develop.  It’s tempting to dig out less, but don’t.  The good news though, is the depth only needs to be at or below the level in the pot, exposing the root ball. 


To the native soil piled around the perimeter of the hole, add composted manure, composted leaves or bark, or in clay soil, add a permanent soil amender such as PermiTill.  Take the shovel and chopped through the soil to mix in the soil amenders.



Remove the plant from the pot.  Check the root system.  The roots of container grown plants can grow in a circle.  If the roots continue to grow this way, girdling can occur, often times killing the plant.  Tease the roots to loosen them.  This makes it easier for the roots to grow into the new soil. 


Plant balled and burlapped, B & B plants, such that the crown of the plant (at the base of the trunk) is a little bit higher than the outer edge.  Handle the plant by the B & B, not the trunk.  I’m often guilty of this.  Handling it by the trunk, puts pressure on the roots since B & B plants are very heavy., pulling down on the root system causing stress.


Position the plant to your liking.  As with any plant, there’s always a better looking face.  Rotate the plant until it is facing in the direction to present the best exposure.

Back-fill with lightly amended soil or the native soil.  Don’t overly compass the soil by pressing on it with your foot.  Just lightly compact the soil to remove large air pockets.  Soil that is too compacted may prevent water from reaching roots.  Water well to remove air pockets.  Add 2 – 3 inches of mulch, but be mindful not to put the mulch too close to the trunk.

Watch your new planting over the winter.  In the absence of or in low rainfall, remember to water.   Fertilizer once you observe new growth in the spring.

Helen Yoest

Gardening with Confidence 



  1. tina said

    Very good advice. It seems planting too deeply is an all too common problem, resulting in death-to the tree:( Unless it is a bottle tree:)

  2. Yes Ma’am. Now what about transplanting mature trees–which is something I’ve never done. I’m talking about digging them out of the ground and moving them to my house:). I know of a business that is going to be demolished and rebuilt. So I want the old landscaping—as there is nothing wrong with it.

    I’m not even sure I’ll be able to dig it out. Some is probably a tangled mass of roots. They are growing in a median in some places. I’ll have to whack me a path through the roots at some point in time. Yes, that is probably not preferred but no choice.

    I’ll get as much root-ball as possible but no guarantee. Now is a good time to transplant them as our weather is mild and wet. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens. They are going in my back beds and will have enough recuperation time to settle in for the summer heat. I’ll keep you informed of the progress.

  3. Oh boy, you go girl..I love an adventure. Too bad you don’t have the time to root prune…assuming you don’t. When do you have to have them out? What are they? How old are they? Look at it this way, you have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Good luck!

  4. I’m still at your blog and that is how I can reply so quickly–been here snooping around for awhile. I don’t even know all the varieties. The business is still operating. It’s hard to see what they have without being run over by a car. They are so busy that they are going to totally demolish it and rebuild in two months. So I can’t go digging them out while they have customers all around. I bet the opportunity is a day at best.

    I’m guessing some of them are 10 to 20 years old. They’ve been trimmed and most are evergreens of all sorts. I see a big cryptomeria that is smashed right up against the drive-thru with about a 10 foot tall area to grow. I bet they have been trimming that poor thing to death.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: