This is part of a series of factsheets aimed at supporting local governments to expand, manage and protect their community canopies. Full and healthy tree canopies help to sequester carbon, enhance biodiversity, build climate resilience and promote well-being for all.

This factsheet tells you how to properly plant a tree to give it the best chance of survival. It provides step-by-step guidance communities can follow to get their trees off to a heathy start.

Why does tree planting matter? 

Planting trees is an important way that communities can tackle climate change while also achieving other important benefits, such as increasing biodiversity and community well-being. Think of planting a tree as making a nature-based investment: When trees are planted in the right places at the right times, we can maximize the benefits of the investment by ensuring their long-term survival.

With some careful planning and clearly defined objectives we can successfully maximize those benefits.

Selecting the right area to plant in

An important part of planting is ensuring that new trees will have adequate access to light, water and good-quality soil for successful establishment and growth. Sometimes the areas we want to plant in don’t provide the ideal conditions for planting. For example, planting in paved environments (such as sidewalks or parking lots) poses challenges because the soil beneath the pavement has often been compacted to prevent settlement and cracking. Specific techniques to remediate or decompact the soil may be necessary before planting in those kinds of areas can be begin.

How to plant trees

The success of tree planting depends on several factors, including planting site conditions and timing. Here are six key steps: 

1. Choose the right time to plant

Seasonal changes, such as soil temperature and water availability, significantly impact the success of tree establishment. The ideal planting seasons are typically fall and spring, depending on where you live. This is when water availability is adequate and soil temperatures are typically close to ten degrees Celsius to support optimal root growth.

Be sure that weather conditions are cool enough to allow time for new trees to establish roots in their new location before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new top growth. Consider the impacts of climate change on local conditions and adjust your community’s planting schedule accordingly.

2. Transport your trees carefully and store them in an appropriate location

Potted stock and bareroot trees are fragile living things. Inspecting trees and shrubs before planting will ensure that quality standards (such as Canadian Nursery Stock Standards) will be met. Trees of poor quality should be rejected.

It’s also important to avoid damaging trees during transport. Here are some general guidelines for transporting and storing trees:

  • Protect trees during shipping by covering them with a tarp or burlap or shipping them in an enclosed truck.  
  • Lift trees using root ball straps or container handles, never by the trunk. 
  • On the job site, store trees upright and in the shade and water as needed. Try to avoid storing trees on asphalt. 
  • Plant trees as soon as possible after delivery. 

3. Prepare the planting site to ensure trees will have adequate access to sunlight, water and good-quality soil 

It’s a good idea to double-check that the chosen planting site is safe and accessible and free from any obstructions caused by utilities or infrastructure. Consider remediation measures if these conditions are not met.  

Next, prepare the necessary tools and equipment for planting. Inspect trees one more time before planting to ensure they are undamaged and still of adequate quality.  

4. Dig the soil pit according to the size of the root ball 

The hole you dig to plant the tree in should be at least two times as wide as the tree’s root ball and the same depth as the root ball. You’re aiming for the trunk flare (the part of a tree where the trunk meets the ground and flares out as the trunk transitions into the root system) to sit at ground level. If it is above or below ground level, this will damage the tree. Be sure to loosen any surrounding compacted soil to facilitate root growth.  

5. Prepare the root ball and plant the tree 

Carefully remove the tree from its container. For ball and burlap trees, trim as much burlap material from the root ball as possible. If trees are in wire baskets, cut or remove the baskets prior to planting. Inspect the roots for any girdling or circling patterns and lightly cut or scrape them away to encourage healthy root growth. 

Place the tree into the hole and then backfill the soil pit with the soil that was removed during digging. Ensure the soil is firmly packed around the roots to eliminate air pockets and stabilize the tree. Create a well at the surface for watering. Apply five to ten centimetres of mulch around the trunk, but do not create a sloped pile (it shouldn’t have a “volcano” shape). Don’t allow mulch to touch the stem. 

6. Water the soil  

Immediately after planting, water all around the root ball to settle any air pockets and ensure there's plenty of water available to the new planting's roots. Fill the soil well with water and moisten the mulch as well. Water often to help the root system establish itself in the planting site. 

What post-planting care do trees require?  

In most regions, newly planted urban trees usually require some care after planting. It’s common for watering or irrigation during dry seasons to carry on for two to five years after planting. Installing tree guards or wire mesh can protect against potential hazards, such as lawn equipment or animals. And large tree stock or trees in busy or windy areas may require staking or other support to maintain stability, but this should be removed after the first year of growth.  

It’s a good idea to develop a maintenance plan to guide young tree care and to monitor quality after planting is done. Post-planting inspections of all or even just a sample of newly planted trees will tell you whether the targeted planting standard was achieved.  

How to involve your community in tree planting 

It’s a great idea to get your community involved in tree planting. Getting people together for planting activities builds community by making people feel they are contributing to greening and beautifying their environment. It also provides valuable educational opportunities for participants to learn about the urban forest.  

Community members and businesses can be engaged through planting events held in parks, schools or other community spaces. Communities can seek funding from programs like Tree Canada’s Treemendous Communities Grant to support such events, and municipalities can receive funding for community engagement as part of a planting project through the Growing Canada’s Community Canopies initiative.

Next steps   

This factsheet has presented an overview of how to plant trees to give them the best chance of survival. In addition to following the guidance here to get trees off to a heathy start, please consult the other factsheets in this series (coming soon).  

Here are some further resources that can help you with your next tree planting project: 

  1. Tree Canada, Canadian Urban Forest Strategy 2019–2024
  2. Tree Canada, How to Plant a Tree 
  3. Vibrant Cities Lab, Tree Planting 

This resource was created in partnership by Tree Canada and FCM’s Green Municipal Fund for the Growing Canada’s Community Canopies initiative, which is delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and funded by the Government of Canada. 


The Green Municipal Funds’ Growing Canada’s Community Canopies is a $291 million initiative, ending in 2031, funded by the Government of Canada and delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Capacity building is enabled through a partnership with Tree Canada. 

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