College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Environmental Science & Technology

Plant, Protect, and Care for Your Trees


1) Dig the hole

  • Make the hole at least as deep as the tap root.
  • Make the hole at least a couple of feet wide.
  • Don’t let the shovel ‘streak’ the side of the hole. A streak is when the side of the hole is made smooth. Roots have a very hard time getting through streaked soil. When the hole is wide and deep enough, use the shovel or a soil fork to pick at the side of the hole to roughen up the sides of the hole. This will allow your trees roots to make it out of the hole and into the undisturbed soil, and will allow water to keep from ponding in the hole.

2) Remove your tree from its container, but don’t yank it out. Rather: cut the containter with a razorblade so that you can fold the container open and remove the tree, cradling it an its roots. The more potting material you can keep on the roots the better.

Don't yank your tree out from its container. Open up the side of the container with a razor blade. Fold the container open and cradle the tree, taproot and soil out.

3) Hold the tree in place such that when soil is put back in the hole, the junction of the tap root and stem will be at the soil surface.

Note where the thick taproot meets the thinner stem. The seedling should be planted so that this junction occurs at the soil surface.

  • The taproot is elongated, and not curled around the bottom of the hole. THE TAP ROOT SHOULD BE STRAIGHT. If you have a hickory be especially careful. The hickory taproot is succulent and very easy to snap.

4) Begin backfilling the hole with the original soil and (if you would like) a small amount of compost. Compost will help keep the soil from compacting and will increase the water holding capacity and the nutrient content of the soil. Don’t over do it. Most of the material you put back in the hole should be the original soil.

  • You can add a little bit of water as you do this. Firm the soil as you go, but don’t smash it.
  • Try to keep the soils original structure well expressed unless the soil occurs in huge blocks.

5) Get the tree’s vertical position and the soil level, such that the junction of the taproot and the stem occurs at the soil surface. If your acorn or nut is still attached this is also the point where that attachment occurs. Don’t plant your tree with the top of the taproot above the soil surface. Try to get the soil somewhat firm, and with its original structure intact.

6) You can use soil and rocks to make a small circular embankment around the tree, directing any runoff right towards the seedling.

7) Water with a couple of gallons of water, and don’t water too fast. Water only so fast that water, in a few square inches around the tree soaks in.

8) Cover the soil surface with some kind of mulch to minimize the chance that the soil will heat up and dry out. Don’t let the mulch get in diret contact with the seedling. The mulch, depending on its content, could chemically burn the young tree’s thin bark.


Protecting your tree is absolutely necessary. An unprotected tree whether in a rural or suburban environment is doomed to be eaten or severly maimed. Though your tree might sprout from its remaining root, why have to wait that much longer before your tree grows up?

You have two options for tree protection: tree tubes or metal fencing cages.

Tree tubes

Metal fencing cages

Have a very narrow foot print

Recommended footprint of 2’

Is conspicuous

Much harder to see from far away

Automatically protects seedling from light shock

Must protect from light shock using add. materials


More expensive

Limited lifetime; may need to be replaced

Will last till seedling does not need protection

Not lawnmower resistant

Lawnmower resistant

5’ height may not protect fully from deer

Easily expandable


If you are using a tree tube for protection

1) The supplier of your tree tube is ‘TreePro’ which supplied this product to the sponsoring departments at a substantial discount. Installation guide.

2) You supply the stake.

3) Though all you will need is one stake for a tree tube, the stake is very important:

  • The stake needs to be long enough  so that it is firmly in the ground, and the stake reaches at least four feet up
  • The stake should be place on the side of the tree tube where prevailing winds blow from. In many cases this will be on the west side of the tube.
  • The stake needs to be tough enough in order to hold the tree tube up for several years.

4) Bind the tree tube to the stake using the zip ties.

5) Secure the bird net over the top of the tube. Without netting at the top, birds can get stuck within the tube, permanently. Part of the reason you are planting this tree is for the birds, so be sure to secure the netting on top in order to protect birds from their bird-brain impulses.

If you will be using metal fencing for protection

1) We recommend using three, flanged, metal stakes (about $5 each) driven into the ground at about a two foot diameter about the tree. These stakes are usually painted dark green.

2) We recommend metal wire fencing five feet high. A 50 foot roll costs about $50. You will not use much to make a cage 2 feet in diameter.

3) Using a wire cutter cut the fencing, such that the fencing can be used to self-secure. Do this by cutting down along the near-side of a vertical wire in the fencing. This will result in a column of horizontal fencing wires that can be used to wrap around the other side of the fencing. If pulled tight, you wont use up a lot of fencing material to create a 2-foot diameter fence. In a few years time, when the seedling has gotten five feet high, you’ll want to use some more fencing to make the overall height about seven feet. This will foil any deer.

A cage-planted black oak, not originally provided with protection from the full sun. Note the leaf scorch. This tree almost died. Partial shading installed on the south side of the cage provided enough shade to stop the desiccation. This one will live!

Partial shading was provided with some sticks. Alternate means of temporary shading could be cloth strips, or the webbed bags citrus fruits are sold in. This shading is necessary in order to keep trees from desiccating as in the previous picture. Such shading is temporary, however, needing to be in place for only one month.

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