Arbor Day – Plant a Tree this Spring!

Trees not only add value to your property, but they provide shade, clean air and homes for wildlife. Many of our clients that must get a beloved tree removed, regardless of the reason, express interest in planting a new one in its place.  At Safe Tree, one of our certified arborists can point you in the right direction, especially if you have specific tree needs, for example, perhaps wishing to have a flowering tree, or one that doesn’t shed as much foliage in the fall.

However, for those of you that might want to try and plant your own trees this spring season, this article is written with you in mind. As mentioned briefly above, trees provide us with so many benefits, from shade, privacy, increased property values, shelter and food for birds and other small wildlife, and even a place for playing in our backyards. Trees also contribute to the overall health of our planet by providing oxygen, recycling moisture and storing carbon, which is the number one cause of climate change. They also help to stabilize our river banks and aid in preventing soil erosion, while keeping our planets temperatures in check and breaking the wind, which protects our houses, crops and other human factors.

Deciding to plant more trees on your property is one way each of us can help improve the environment while making it look good too. Tree planting is  a lot easier than one would think so follow these simple tips below to start your own tree growing journey.

Before Planting

When selecting your tree, it is important to determine what your goals and desires are. If you are planting a tree on a smaller property or a property that already has numerous trees it is important to think of the bigger picture. Consider factors such as how large the species you’ve selected grows, white pines for example were used as ship masts on the tall boats because they grew tall, strong and straight but they might over power a smaller property even though they look great in a larger area. Downy Service Berry is a beautiful smaller sized tree that flowers in the spring, however it also bears fruit in the form of berries in the fall and though great for attracting wildlife, it might not be for you if you dislike tree droppings all over your driveway. Therefore, researching how your tree looks, grows and acts as it grows is of the utmost importance when determining what tree is right for you.

It is also important to take into consideration a tree’s biological needs, its shape and size at maturity, and its function in your landscape help determine the best tree to plant. Selecting trees found naturally in your local area will ensure easier maintenance as well as tolerance to climate and soil types. Every tree has individual tolerances to late spring or early fall frosts, flooding or drying, to high winds or low light levels, and to compacted, heavy, acidic or alkaline soils. Extensive research ahead of time will save you, or future property owners from having to cut it down and will significantly minimize hazards and discomforts.

*Please note: the roots of willows and poplars spread to seek water and are likely to plug water and sewer pipes, so don’t plant them near underground piping.

When to Plant?

Many deciduous trees can be planted in the spring, as soon as the frost is out of the ground or in the fall, from leaf-fall until freeze-up. Poplars, willows, ash, elms, and birches tend to overwinter better if planted in the spring. Where as evergreens can be planted early in the spring until four weeks after deciduous trees have opened their leaves or in the fall, from about the first week of August to the end of October

planting treeSteps to take when planting your tree(s)

Minimize stress & strain:

  • Protect your tree well during transport to avoid bruising the bark and breaking twigs, branches, and buds.
  • Pad the tree trunk and branches with burlap and tie all loose ends with soft rope or twine.
  • Keep the root ball moist and cover exposed bare roots with wet burlap or moss.
  • Cover tree crowns with wet burlap to prevent drying of the tops, especially evergreen.
  • Keep the tree in a shady location until it is time to plant.

Prepare the area for planting:

  • Remove grass, weeds and ground cover (turf) within a 50-cm radius of the planting hole. These plants compete with the tree for water and nutrients.
  • Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the container or root ball (to accommodate the entire root system), and to the depth of the root ball.
  • Roughen the sides and bottom of the hole to allow root penetration.
  • If good quality soil is not available, break up the turf taken from the top and put it in the hole around the root ball, where it will break down into good rooting soil. Peat or loam, if added, would improve this mixture.
  • Soil in the hole should be moist, not too wet or too dry.
  • A cone-shaped mound of soil at the bottom of the hole is advised for bare-root trees. This will allow the roots to develop downward and outward into the surrounding soil.

Prepare the roots to encourage faster growth:

  • Bare-root: Loosen the roots with a spray of water and straighten them to prevent doubling-under, crowding, and crossing. Do not expose the roots to direct sunlight or drying winds for more than a minute to avoid damaging the fine root hairs.
  • Container: Trees should be kept in the container until the last possible moment before planting.
  • Bur-lapped: Trees wrapped in burlap should not be soaked prior to planting. The burlap should be removed prior to planting rather than leaving it to slowly decompose. Roots circling the outside of the root ball should be clipped, and roots matted on the bottom should be cut off.

Use care while planting:

  • Bare-root: The root crown is set on the mound and the roots spread over and down the sides of the mound. Refill the hole with good quality soil, gently raising and lowering the tree while filling to eliminate air pockets.
  • Bur-lapped / Container: Plant the tree so that the top of the root ball is flush with the top of the hole. Fill the hole in and around the root ball with good quality soil or soil removed from the hole. Tamp the soil around the root ball until the hole is two-thirds full. Fill the remaining space with water to settle the soil and allow the hole to drain. Finish filling the hole with soil and make a ridge of soil around the root ball to direct water towards the roots.
  • Water applied beyond the root ball is not available to the tree until roots grow into the native soil. If soil settles after a few days of watering, additional soil may be required to refill the planting hole.

Taking Care of Your Trees


If your soil allows water to drain easily (i.e., sandy), soak the tree two to four hours twice a week for the first two to three months and weekly thereafter for the first year. The roots must not be allowed to dry out. Peat moss mixed with sandy soils at the time of planting will improve water retention capacity. During the second year, water twice a month during the late spring and summer. If your soil contains a lot of clay and water tends to puddle around the tree, lighter watering is recommended to prevent flooding and to ensure that the roots receive enough oxygen to permit growth. Additional watering of evergreens, prior to freeze-up will minimize the detrimental effects of winter drying.


Fertilizer helps trees thrive and resist drought, disease, and insects. High phosphorus fertilizers are recommended at planting time to promote root growth. Later on, higher nitrogen fertilizers can be applied for greening and top growth. Slow-acting fertilizer can be applied anytime, but mineral uptake is greatest from May through July. Fast-acting fertilizer is best applied in spring so that the new growth it stimulates has time to mature by winter.

Staking: Staking trees larger than one meter is recommended as it prevents dislodging by wind, people, and animals. Make sure the stake ties do not cause damage to the bark. The stakes should be removed after two or three growing seasons.


Prune at planting simply to improve branch spacing and promote a strong structure in the tree. Annual pruning should be started when the trees are young in order to train them to the desired shape.

Deciduous trees should be pruned while dormant – in late fall or early spring. Exceptions are birch and maple, which must be pruned when the leaves are fully grown, or they will bleed. Remove dead, damaged, diseased, weak and thin, or rubbing branches. Remove water sprouts from the trunk and main branches and suckers from the trunk base or roots. Thin the young branches to maintain the desired crown shape and size. Cut just outside the branch collar (the swollen area at the branch base), and do not make flush cuts or leave stubs.

Conifers are pruned to direct new growth and increase density. Entire branches are not usually removed, since unsightly gaps will result. Spruce and fir must be pruned in late spring after new growth has started but not yet matured. New pine buds should be pinched back in early June when the new growth (candle) has reached full length.

These are general guiding principles for tree planting and care. For more specific information, please consult your local garden center, district agriculturalist, forester or forest technician, library, or tree nursery staff on proper planting procedures for individual species.

[Section Reproduced from Canadian Forest Service – Natural Resources Canada. 1992 ISBN 0-622-19536-1]

cedar waxwing in downy serviceberry
Why Choose Native Trees?

Whether you know what specific requirements you’re looking for in a tree or not selecting one Native to your area is most often the best choice. So what does it mean when we say “Native”? Simply put, it means that the tree occurs naturally in your ecosystem and therefore works with the nature surrounding it in complete symbiosis. Without them and the insects that co-evolved with them, local birds cannot survive.

Trees that occur naturally in your area will need less maintenance and are easier to care for, which makes them not only the right choice for the environment, but also the easiest, most cost-effective choice too. Restoring native plant habitat is vital to preserving biodiversity. In adding a native tree to your property, you enhance the habitat and it becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals. You’ll see tons of benefits including climate control, increased birds and wildlife, as well as low maintenance since most natural occurring diseases will have naturally occurring predators too. This makes caring for a native species of trees significantly easiest and involves less routine care on your part.

Unfortunately, many of the trees and shrubs you’ll find in most garden centers are alien species from other countries. These exotic plants not only sever the food web, but many have become invasive pests, out competing native species and degrading habitat in remaining natural areas.

To do your part, you can use Audubon’s handy database to discover native plants in your area and which types of birds they’ll attract.

Local Tree Planting Programs

Planting a tree with family, a partner or a great friend can be a rewarding experience, especially when purchasing a new property. Make sure to check your municipality first if you plan to plant a tree in your front lawn, in many cities within the Niagara and Hamilton areas have free tree planting programs which include a wide selection of native options for you to choose from. Hamilton specifically has the “Street Tree Program” and will come to your property and do all the work for you, all you need to do is go online, submit a form, including your top 3 tree choices and they will come and plant your new tree within the city property lines. Houses on corner lots can reap the rewards of up to 3 trees under this program, while single property homes with neighbours on each side are guaranteed at least one.

While Land Care Niagara has both urban and rural tree planting programs so if you own land in the Niagara region you might not even have to pay for your native trees to be planted, especially if you own a rural plot of land. As part of their reforestation plan, they are actively reaching out to landowners who would like to be involved in increasing their property’s biodiversity and will form a strategic planting program for your property alongside you.

We hope this article will help you make better decisions on which trees you choose for your property. Please let us know in the comments if you are planting this Spring season or if you have any questions about the resources or suggested practices in this article.

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