For those of you who aren’t afraid to get your hands dirty, here is a guide to planting your own small trees and shrubs!

1. Do your homework beforehand or hire a designer to find the right plant for the right space
2. Once you’ve picked the perfect spot in your yard, you want to dig a hole that is twice as wide and deep as the container your plant came in.
3. Some soil amending may be required depending on what type of plant you get and the quality of the soil.  Soil amendment is usually a process where products (fertilizers and non-organic materials) are added to the soil to improve its physical qualities in order to provide nutrition to the plants. It is generally used on poor soils or to rebuild damaged soil from poor management.

  • Soil amendment is not recommended for native plants as long as the native soil is soft and friable.
  • To amend the soil, use approximately 1/3 composted material and 2/3 native soil blending them in a pile outside the hole.
  • Sometimes you might need to use a fertilizer granule or tab which can be incorporated into the backfill (the soil you originally dug up). We recommend organic fertilizers like Dr. Earth.
4.  Fill the hole with water and allow for the water to drain (or percolate) into the subsoil.
  5. Fill some backfill material into the bottom of the hole and moisten, tamp, and mound slightly.
  6. Set the plant root ball on top the moistened backfill so that the plant collar or top of root ball is about 1” higher than the surrounding grade (or finish grade).
  7. Use a hose to slowly water the hole while replacing backfill to about 2/3 the height of the root ball.
  8. Fill the remaining portion surrounding the top of the root ball with more backfill, but make sure the top of root ball is still higher than grade.
  9. Optional for plants that enjoy more water: Create an irrigation basin, by using the rest of the backfill and native soil to create a small mound around the circumference of the hole you just dug. This will keep water in place without having runoff. *Great for fruit trees
  10. Apply a generous amount of coarse, organic (weed, and disease free) mulch (at least 2”) around the exposed collar and inside the irrigation basin area. Do not let the mulch touch the collar/base of the plant itself.
  11. Lastly irrigate thoroughly to settle the backfill. Do not let the root ball dry out for the couple of weeks, then slowly ease back on watering as recommended until established (typically 1.5- 2 years).

In the SF Bay Area we can plant almost year-round. However, please avoid planting on the hottest days of the year (it stresses the plant) or after a long duration of rain (clay soil gets too sticky and unworkable). Also, avoid watering during the hottest time of the day due to evapotranspiration.

The best way to irrigate is through a smart ET irrigation controller or through a multi-staggered timer. In other words, we strongly recommend longer deep soaking for trees and shrubs as opposed to frequent but short watering.

With these steps you should have a healthy tree or shrub growing in no time!