Tree Planting & Care Instructions

Choose where you will plant your trees:

  • Find land:  Find a viable piece of land according to the following land requirements. (This can be a garden, a green space, or a potential partner’s green space.)
    • The site(s) should consist of two pieces of land that are each 15’ in diameter (they don’t have to be connected, but should be within a quarter mile of each other). Each site needs to have well-drained soil (no standing pools of water) and get at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day.
    • The planting site cannot have more than a “medium” level of lead. Lead will be absorbed into the leaves and bark of the tree, but not the fruit. Sites with a “high” level of lead are not safe to grow in or dig in (see below for information about testing the soil for lead).
    • Access to a water source (in the first few years after planting, trees may need up to 5 gallons of water per week during the warmer months).
  • Get permission to plant: This may come from the leaders of your organization, the owners of the land, the land maintenance team, and/or a potential partner.
  • Test your soil:  
    • Get the soil from your potential planting sites tested by sending a sample to UMASS. Make sure you wear gloves and wash your hands well. Full directions can be found here. Choose option B – standard soil test. The cost will be $10 and you should receive results in about a week via email.
    • Get the sample back. If your site has no lead, “low lead,” or “medium lead,” you can plant at your site. You may proceed with the next step.
    • (If your site has “high lead”  you’re not alone. Much of the soil in the Boston area is contaminated. If you still want to be a planting Delegation, consider partnering with another community or organization to plant on their site. Feel free to contact us if you want help connecting with another community. You can also join the Party in many other ways! Join us at our events. Support the project by volunteering. Make a donation.)
    • Send us an email with your soil test attached (UMASS will email it to you). We will now upgrade you from “pending” to “confirmed”!

Tree delivery:

  • Find information on ordering trees here.
  • When you order your trees, ask the company for an estimated arrival time. Try to time your planting date for as soon as possible after the trees will arrive. The longer the trees remain unplanted after you get them, the more stressed they become and the longer they take to recover. So put your tree in its home quickly, if you can! But it’s also important to be able to involve your community members in your planting, so if you need wait a few more days to plant, please follow the below directions carefully.
  • Do not allow the roots to dry out. Even a few minutes in the sun and breeze can kill it. So keep your roots wet and moist.

If you plan to plant your trees within 48 hours:

  • Keep the tree in its wrapping and add water to remoisten the packing material
  • Store in a cool shaded place like a shed or basement. Avoid heat and sunlight.

If you will be planting your trees more than 48 hours after receiving your shipment, you can keep them safe until you plant by using these extra instructions:

  • Remove the plastic wrap around the roots. Wrap the roots in wet shredded newspaper or sawdust. Pack firmly to avoid air pockets, but be gentle with the roots.
  • Keep in a cool shaded place. Avoid heat and sunlight. An unheated basement/cellar would be best.

Before You plant:

Make sure you have all the supplies you will need a few days ahead:

  • Shovel(s)
  • Pruning shears
  • Yardstick
  • Hammer (or some other object to pound fencing stakes into the ground)
  • A large bucket and access to water
  • Two tree whips (order online)
  • Compost (pick up from Allendale Farm in Brookline)
  • Mulch (pick up from City Natives Nursery)
  • Soil amendments (included in your tree kit)
  • Root dip (included in your tree kit)
  • Plastic fencing, wooden stakes, and zip ties (included in your tree kit)
  • Laminated sign with zip ties (included in your tree kit)
  • Flags and buttons (included in your tree kit)
  • A camera
  • Apple cider and apple treats

Soak the roots of your trees in water for about 24 hours before planting. A bucket filled with water should be the right size and quantity of water.

Tree Planting Timeline:

  1. Have your soil tested for lead levels.
  2. Order your trees online.
  3. Receive your planting kit in the mail.
  4. Set your planting date according to when your trees will be delivered.
  5. Plan your planting event and invite your community members!
  6. Notify the Boston Tree Party about your planting event schedule.
  7. Pick up mulch from City Natives Nurseries and compost from Allendale Farm.
  8. Gather the rest of the supplies you need to have on hand (see list under Before You Plant).
  9. Receive your tree delivery.
  10. If you will be planting within 48 hours, moisten the packing material and store in a cool, shaded place.
  11. If you will be planting more than 48 hours after you receive your trees, wrap the roots in wet materials and store in a cool dark place.
  12. Watch this video and read the planting instructions carefully.
  13. 24 hours before you plant, soak your trees in buckets of water.
  14. On the day of your tree planting, follow the steps as outlined below.
  15. Enjoy your planting event!
  16. Make sure to water your trees on a regular basis as long as the weather stays warm, and monitor their progress.

Planting each tree:

  1. Dig a large hole at least twice as wide (about 3’) and about as deep as the root system. This should look like a shallow salad bowl. You need a hole this wide, because most roots grow laterally and need plenty of room to spread out. This will also allow you to amend the soil around the root system to feed the roots as they grow out, encouraging a healthy root system.
    1. You will be back-filling with the soil you dig from the hole, so make this later step easier on yourself by making one pile of dirt from the hole as you dig.
  2. Loosen up the soil at the bottom of the hole, especially around the sides.
  3. Dust in compost and soil amendments over your hole and the dirt you dug out of the hole and loosely mix the existing soil and amendments together. Do not add more amendments than we have provided as part of your planting kit – too much concentrated compost inside of the hole may make the soil so rich that the roots won’t want to extend out!
  4. The next step is very important: Slowly add water to the bag of mycorrhizal root dip included in your planting kit and massage until the powder combines with the water to form a gel. Use your hands (it’s totally safe to touch!) to gently coat the roots of both of your trees before planting. Feel free to dump the rest of the gel into your planting holes before filling.
    • Mycorrhizal root dip consists of living fungal spores that wrap around the tree roots and then extend out into the soil, acting as an extension of the plant’s root system. Because they are thinner than roots, they can reach into places where roots may not be able to penetrate. They will increase the tree’s absorption of water and nutrients by tenfold!
  5. Make a mound at the bottom of the hole over which to spread the roots (this will make it easier for you to position you tree at the correct height).
  6. Spread the roots out as you set the trees in the holes so that they radiate out like sunrays.
  7. The tree should sit so that the graft is 2” above ground level. The graft is the portion of the tree that is wrapped. It is the union place of the scion (the buds that were brought in) and the rootstock (the tree stalk and roots). Keep this portion of the tree above ground to avoid it from taking root itself instead of the rootstock.
  8. Fill in the area around the roots with the soil and amendments mixture, tamping the soil down as you go (being gentle with the roots and breaking up any big clods of soil) and adding some water before you have completely finished back-filling, to help settle things down. Wiggle the trunk as the water seeps in to ensure there are no air pockets.
  9. Create a berm (a mound) around each tree in a circle with any remaining soil, so that water will seep in to your planting hole and not run off.  This should look and act like a dirt wall surrounding your tree.
  10. Water deeply after the tree is planted. Trees require 1-2” of rain (or water from you if there has not been enough rain) per week. So a good initial soaking in water is better than a sprinkle. This should be about 5 gallons.
  11. Using pruning shears, cut off any lower branches from the main trunk. Any branches that your tree has already grown will be much too low to the ground for proper fruiting structure, so they must be removed. Then cut off the top of the whip 32-36” from the ground. This will feel difficult, but it’s important for ensuring that your tree will start to send out lateral branches at the correct height.
  12. Next step is to spread ramial wood chip mulch in a circle around your tree. Keep the mulch several inches away from the trunk. Mulch is very important. It encourages earthworms, holds moisture, keeps down weeds, insulates against excess heat and cold, aerates and loosens soils, builds humus, and fertilizes feeder roots. Ramial wood chip mulch replicates the forest floor and provides the best mulch for apple trees.
  13. Now install your protective fence. Push the two wooden stakes included with your planting kit into the ground about 12-18 inches away from the tree on opposite sides. Use a hammer or mallet to make sure they are secure. Attach the plastic mesh fencing included in your kit in a circle around the tree, attaching it to the stakes with the zip ties. Fill out the blank sections of the laminated sign included in your planting kit. Lastly, attach the sign to one of the stakes so that it can be read by passers-by (again, with the zip ties). Touch up your well and mulch after installing your fence.
  14. Do not put on your tree guard at this point. You will put this on in late fall and take it off in the spring (it is only to help prevent rodents from chewing the bark off the tree during the winter; keeping it on during the summer can encourage borers). Please put these in a safe place where you will be able to find/access them at the beginning of winter.
  15. Finally, dance the apple jig around your apple tree and celebrate your planting!

Make sure to leave the variety tags on your trees for the first year or two. Also please write down which variety is planted where and share that information with us in addition to keeping it in a safe place. If something should happen to one of your trees, it is important to know which variety is which so an appropriate replacement can be planted.

Caring for Your Tree the First Year

The first years after planting are critical for your new tree.  Ensuring it has water, light, nutrients, and protection from competition and damage will help it survive.

  • Trees require regular watering during the warmer months. This is especially important for young fruit trees (the first 3-4 years after planting). Water into the holes, targeting the roots with 1” of water per week for the first season. This should be about 2.5 gallons per tree during a fairly wet summer. If the summer is dry, water extra – up to 15 gallons a week for a very dry season.
  • Check your trees several times after planting to make sure they are still firmly planted in the ground. Tread the trees in lightly if they have loosened. Also check after strong winds.
  • Make sure your fencing and signs stay secure. This is very important for making sure no one accidentally damages your trees when they are so small and hard to notice.
  • Keep weeds and grass away from new trees.
  • Disregard the instructions in our tree planting video to do some preliminary pruning in the first summer. It is more important to let your tree grow and get established without interference than try to get the perfect growth structure. Pruning incorrectly will do much more harm to your trees than good, so best hold off for the first couple years. We will send notifications through email when you should start thinking about pruning, and we will have educational resources to help you learn how to best prune your trees when it becomes important.
  • In the fall, put on your tree guards. We will send out an email when it is time to put them on, and another reminder email in the spring when weather conditions are correct for removing the guards.
  • You do not need to worry about fertilizers or pruning during the first year or two after planting. The soil amendments and compost you used during planting are enough to get your trees to a great start and last for quite awhile. We will send email alerts about when to start thinking about extra care such as enriching the soil with compost.
    • Also be on the lookout for notifications of educational opportunities (such as workshops) for learning about tree care!

Spread the Work Around

We recommend that you choose one person to oversee the care of your trees, however this does not mean that s/he has to be solely responsible for all the work. One 2011 Delegation asked members of their community to help with watering during the first summer after planting their trees. To make sure everyone knew what needed to be done and when, this Delegation set up a Google group and made a spreadsheet accessible to everyone in the group with the dates the trees required watering. People could sign up for the days that were convenient for them, and it was clear when the trees were getting watered. (Using this electronic resource also allowed people to check the sign-up sheet at their convenience.) This spread out the work so it was not an undue burden on the Delegation’s Tree Care Manager, and helped community members be involved with the trees and engaged in the project.