Planting a large tree is not difficult and can have such an instantaneous affect that it is well worth while doing.

When is the best time to buy and plant specimen trees?

It is best to purchase and plant large trees between November and March. Bare root and root ball trees are a very economical way to buy especially when you want to plant a few trees.  They are usually sold by girth which is the circumference of the trunk measured 1.5m from the top of the root-ball. Bare-root and root-balled trees are only available in autumn and early winter and they should be planted immediately.

If you are not ready to plant immediately (maybe due to bad weather) they can be stored by covering their roots in good topsoil (make a small raised bed) until you’re ready to plant in their final destination.


Nurseries usually sell trees in 3 different ways:

Bare-rooted trees:

You should be able to get young trees this way, usually up to about 3 years old. Bare-rooted stock is usually available from about November and should have the roots wrapped in plastic to stop them drying out. The most important thing to check is that the root system is well spread out. Planting in November will allow some root growth before temperatures rise in the spring. This gets your tree off to a great start.



Root-balled trees:

This is a good way to buy larger semi-mature trees and some evergreen trees.  Root-balled trees have usually had their roots pruned or have been transplanted several times to encourage the development of a fibrous root system. They often establish better than container-grown trees as they have been grown in soil in the open ground rather than commercial potting compost.  They are lifted and wrapped in hessian and then often wire wrapped.  Root-balled trees are available to buy and plant when dormant, in autumn or early spring. Plant immediately or else store in the same way as described for bare-root trees.



Containerized trees:

This is usually the most expensive way to buy a tree.  They have been grown in compost in a pot and have been maintained in this way for a long time.  You should always remove any excess compost from above where the roots naturally start to grow.  Sometimes roots have started to grow from the buried part of the trunk in container grown trees.  Prune these off close to the trunk.  Tease out the roots to open up the root ball so that the roots will be able to grow out into the soil. Trim away any damaged roots at the same time.


 Site preparation

Plants will not grow where soil contains too little air, insufficient nutrients or where it is very dry or wet.  Soil preparation is important if you want your tree to get off to the best possible start.

Plant as soon as possible

Make sure you have the area prepared before the trees are delivered and that you are ready to plant that day.


Follow the steps below to ensure success.

  1. Waterthoroughly before planting. When planting bare-root trees it’s best to soak the roots for about 2 hours before planting.
  2. Removethe tree from its pot or if planting a root-ball tree remove the wire wrapping and untie the burlap from around the trunk.  Leave the fabric around the roots as this will disintegrate after a while in the soil.
  3. Tease out the rootsas this will encourage side roots and this will also give you a good idea of the root spread.
  4. Dig a planting holethe same depth as the roots and three times the root spread or root ball size.
  5. Make sure that the sides and bottom of the hole isn’t compacted but do not dig the soil at the bottom of the hole as it will settle and cause the tree to sink lower into the ground.
  6. With container-grown trees, scrape away the top layers of compostto leave the uppermost roots just beneath the soil surface. A tree should never be planted deeper than the original soil .
  7. Place the tree in the planting hole and refillthe hole carefully, replacing soil between and around all the roots to eliminate air pockets. Add a handful of fertilizer to get your tree off to a good start.
  8. You will need to stake your tree to help anchor the roots whilst allowing the trunk to flex in the wind.
  9. If planting a root ball tree it is best to use an underground tree anchoring system. They are ideal for specimen trees where tree stakes would be unsightly.

 Looking after your tree

This is very important as specimen and large trees can take up to 3 years to establish.


Believe it or not, drought is common with newly planted trees even in Ireland.  Specimens have a large root-ball and need watering for the first 3 years. Dry, windy conditions are particularly bad for newly planted trees.  Use a seep hose or an irrigation system if possible, seep hoses are cheap and can be easily set up with a timer on your outside tap.


Top-dress in late winter with fertilizer.


Keep weeds and grass away from your newly planted tree to avoid competition between the tree and your lawn.


After feeding, apply a layer of mulch around the tree in late winter, which will help to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Do not pile the mulch over the trunk of the tree as this will cause rot.

Tree protection.

If you live in an area with either rabbits or deer, it is best to protect the tree with a barrier of wire netting.