Tree Planting Management

Tips For Public Interest Group Projects

Plan ahead to ensure that the resources and skill sets needed to complete the project will be available at the appropriate times. To prevent unforeseen difficulties in obtaining the trees, you may wish to have them delivered to the planting site in advance. If the individuals conducting the planting are not suited for tasks such as digging, you may wish to have the holes pre-dug. More experienced volunteers should be interspersed among less experienced volunteers to provide advice and guidance.

You should make any necessary contractual arrangements to acquire the trees even further in advance so that the desired delivery dates can be met easily.


Although expert opinions vary, Beautify Virginia recommends that most tree species be planted in the early spring. The tree should have time to establish itself before being exposed to the temperature extremes of summer or winter. The fall is a good alternative planting time. These are merely basic guidelines, however. You should research the specific growing recommendations for your local climate and for the particular tree species you plan to work with.


Trees are not designed to be manhandled and moved. To avoid damage, they should be treated delicately. When picking up trees, hold them from the root base, not by the trunk – otherwise the roots may separate from the tree. The trees should be well-secured to prevent jostling during vehicular transport. While awaiting planting, the roots should be kept moist. Planting should proceed as quickly as possible.

The tree should be well suited to the temperature, soil characteristics, and amount of precipitation at the planting site. Ideally, the tree should be native to the region. If the tree is being planted in an unusual location, the shape and ultimate size of the tree may be critical as well. Some trees may be more resilient than others in specific circumstances such as exposure to many hours of direct sunlight or frequent disturbance by passersby.

Because Virginia offers diverse environmental conditions from mountains to beaches, and because these different areas have been impacted by varying levels of human activity, numerous different tree species can be found in Virginia. In highly simplified terms, about 60% of Virginia’s forests are composed of a mix of oaks and hickories. Another 20% are pure pines, mostly due to artificial planting, and 10% are composed of a mix of oaks and pines. Hardwoods make up most of the rest, with significant variations in the exact species mix from one region to another. Invasive (non-native and ecosystem disrupting) species such as White Poplar and Mimosa should be avoided or even removed.

There are three main considerations for selecting planting sites. First, you must secure the legal right to plant. Second, you should choose a site where the presence of trees would have the greatest benefits. Third, the site should be suitable for supporting the normal growth of trees for decades into the future.  The proper consideration of all of these factors will likely require significant interaction with local residents who are best positioned to advise your team about the facts on the ground.

Site Legality

For many sites, governmental approval is essential. Planting on public land requires public approval. Public works agencies should be contacted before planting trees close to roads or intersections because trees can disrupt drivers’ lines of sight. Trees planted near electrical wiring could eventually endanger the wires due to falling branches during storms. You should confirm that no underground utility lines are threatened by your digging.

When planting on private land, the landowner’s permission must be obtained. This permission should ensure access to the site not only during the planting itself, but also in the future so that the trees can be maintained properly. You should not rely solely on a landowner’s word regarding their area of ownership – the best practice is to verify the property lines and the owner’s name in local government records. It is also a good practice to notify neighbors adjacent to the landowner about your plan in case they have any objections or recommendations.

Site Benefits

An ideal place to plant trees is alongside streams, rivers, and other natural or artificial bodies of water. Because water typically flows at the lowest possible point, soil can easily erode, crumble or wash downhill into the water, and get carried away by the current.  Due to their extensive root systems, trees play a major role in stabilizing soil and preventing this erosion. Many animal species also prefer to live near sources of water. Trees provide cover that allow animals to approach the water without the hesitation they would display in the open. Birds and other organisms that prefer proximity to water can also make their homes in these trees. Trees also play a primary role in preventing the flooding of bodies of water. Trees retain and utilize an enormous amount of water. Heavy tree cover greatly reduces flooding risk.

Another great place to plant trees is in public spaces, such as the medians of roads or along public walkways. In addition to being pleasant to view, trees can shade walkways to reduce pedestrian exposure to intense heat and direct sunlight. Trees in public areas usually benefit far more people than do trees on isolated or private land.

There are several other possible considerations regarding the benefits of particular sites. Trees could block eyesores. For instance, trees separating residential from commercial areas are beneficial in ensuring privacy. A single well-placed tree can increase a residential or commercial property’s value by thousands of dollars. Because trees reduce levels of stress and violence, high crime areas may particularly benefit from them. Because trees reduce noise levels, a well engineered buffer of trees around highways can reduce noise pollution while simultaneously reducing the impact of pollution generated by passing cars. Trees also disrupt winds, so they can help protect crops if they are planted adjacent to otherwise open farmland.

Site Suitability

You should assess the potential of damage to trees at a given site. While a tree can help mitigate many problems, the problems might be so severe that the tree does not have a favorable chance of survival. For example, it’s inadvisable to plant a new tree in an area subject to prolonged flooding which could rot out it’s roots and destabilize it’s soil base. Trees in high use areas may need protection against vandalism such as name carving or the accidental breaking of branches by climbers. You should not plant trees on steep hillsides where there’s a danger they may fall over. You should not plant trees in areas that are too small to accommodate the tree when it grows to full maturity. For example, many trees are not suited to planting in the narrow confines of city streets. Lastly, you should be aware of the potential for future construction in the area. Newly planted trees would have limited utility in a commercial zone where clearing for a planned strip mall is about to commence.

If the trees to be planted have bared roots, the roots should be soaked in water for about five hours before planting. The planting hole should be large enough to fully accommodate the roots, but no larger. The goal is to prevent rot. Air pockets left in the hole after planting are conducive to rotting. For this reason, use regular soil instead of loose mulch to fill the hole.

Trees should be planted spaced apart so they have room to grow. The minimum distance can be determined based on the size of a mature canopy for the given species. There should also be some distance between a tree and man-made structures. The branches of mature canopies can scratch the sides of buildings. Tree roots can break pavement and buckle parking lots and driveways.

Because grass can interfere with the ideal development of a tree’s root system, you should create a mulch ring from the base of the trunk extending out to the tips of the branches. To prevent rot, the mulch layer should not actually touch the trunk. The mulch layer should also be thin rather than heaping. The pros and cons of different types of mulch, such as shredded, nugget, and stone, should be considered given the planting circumstances. For example, nugget mulch is cheap and long-lasting but is easily washed away by flowing water.

Beautify Virginia recommends against staking as a routine practice since natural swaying of the trunk is important for sound root development. However, staking may be appropriate in specific circumstances, such as when very young trees will be exposed to high wind conditions. If a tree is top-heavy with a well-developed canopy but a small root ball, or if there are no larger trees or structures close by that act as a windbreak, staking is appropriate. If a stake is used, it should be secured far enough away from the tree so that when it penetrates the ground it does not penetrate the root ball. The bare rope from the staking line should not be allowed to rub directly against the tree. A soft strap can be used to disperse pressure and reduce friction.

If you choose to use staking in low risk conditions, you should remove the stakes within 3 to 6 months. In high risk situations, Beautify Virginia recommends that you leave the stakes in place for the traditional full year.

Beautify Virginia recommends against trunk wrapping as a routine practice since it costs money, has the potential to damage the tree, and requires a revisit within a short period of time to remove the wrapping. However, such temporary protective measures may be used if the tree trunk is exposed to a significant amount of direct sunlight, or if there is a high risk of damage from gnawing animals. For example, if a young tree is planted in the fall in an area with high rodent activity, the soft bark may present a tempting meal during the winter when more palatable food sources are not readily available. Exact recommendations on when to remove trunk wrapping depend on the circumstances, especially since different types of tree wrap materials have different removal timeframes.

Weeds should be pulled as needed to maintain the mulch bed. While trees are still young, Beautify Virginia recommends that they be watered regularly, ideally on a weekly basis for a full two years. This ensures complete root development during the critical early stages. Watering beyond this point could be detrimental because the tree may grow beyond the natural level that can be sustained without supplemental water.  Mature trees should only be watered during extended, severe droughts.

Planting trees is a noble and worthwhile endeavour. We hope this basic orientation will contribute to your project’s success. Always remember to use your judgment in determining whether this advice is appropriate for your circumstances. If you desire additional advice, feel free to contact us.