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Tips on Planting, Transplanting Trees and Shrubs

By: Ronnie Barron, UT/TSU Extension Director, Cheatham County

This time of the year, most people are thinking of Christmas, football, food, and just simply chilling out with the family. The last thing on earth most of us want to do is get out in the yard and plant trees or shrubs. However, fall and winter can be the best times of the year for planting or transplanting, due to generally adequate moisture in the winter. Plus, you can sometimes get a pretty good deal on nursery stock, due to low sales in the winter months.

If you decide to transplant shade trees, fruit trees, shrubs, or other woody ornamentals, be sure and leave as much soil as possible attached to the rootball. A large rootball will help increase the plants survival.

Be sure and inspect any purchased nursery stock for quality and health. Look for signs of disease, insect, or damage. If the plant you are purchasing has been grown in a plastic container, gently lift the root ball from the container and inspect the roots for rot or root spiraling (girdling).

When planting, be sure to dig the hole about 2-3 times the diameter of the plant’s root ball and about 2-3 inches deeper than the root ball. Next, use a spade, rake, or other garden tool to roughen up the sides of the hole to prevent glazing (a slick, nonporous barrier created when the soil has a high clay content). Also, the hole should be filled at least half full of water and allowed to soak in before planting.

Before planting, fill in the hole with just enough soil so the top of the root ball is at ground level. Then, place the root ball in the hole and add just enough soil to hold the plant in an upright position. With “ball and burlap” plants, be sure and remove any twine or wire which may be tied around the root ball. Once the plant has been stabilized in the planting hole remove the upper portion of burlap so that the root ball is exposed. On container grown plants it is a good idea to make several vertical cuts around the root ball just to prevent root girdling or circling.

Next, back fill the hole about half full of soil and add additional water to the hole and allow the fill dirt time to soak it in (a very small amount of fertilizer or rooting hormone can also help to stimulate root growth). Finish filling in the whole and add water one more time to assure that all of the soil is well soaked.

Any newly planted trees should be properly staked to prevent them from being blown over and damaged. The stakes and support should be left on for about a year or two until the tree develops a strong root system.

For more information or free brochures on planting woody ornamentals, contact Ronnie Barron, or Sierra Knaus, at your UT/TSU Cheatham County Extension office, 792-4420. You may also find some of our planting publications on the UT Extension website at


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