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Guide to Proper Tree Planting

Location… Location… Location…

Just as in business, location is everything when planting a tree. You must consider not only the above ground structure (potential size) of the tree, but the growth that occurs below ground as well. Research the growth habits of the tree you choose; then envision that tree 3-5 years from now. Will it still be compatible with the location you've chosen? Keep in mind that the root system can grow up to three times beyond the canopy of the tree! When it has grown to its full size will it interfere with buildings, power lines, sidewalks, or other structures? Is there proper drainage in the spot you've chosen? Believe it or not, more trees die from too much water because of poor drainage, than from too little water (even in drought-ridden SoCal). Finally, what is the condition of the soil? Is it compacted? Lacking in nutrients? Poor consistency? Usually, these situations are easily remedied. It is always wise to have your soil tested before you plant; it will save you time and money in the long run, knowing that the tree you've invested in has everything it needs to flourish, right from the start.

Selecting the right tree

The topic of choosing the right tree covers such a wide range of information we couldn't possibly cover it all here. For now, keep these things in mind:

Deciduous or Evergreen?

Do you want to deal with the mess of fallen leaves and/or berries? If you are planting near a pool or Jacuzzi, or near an entrance to your home (white carpets can be fun!), my guess would be NO! All trees are messy to a certain degree, but trees like Pepper and Olive Trees can be a clean-up nightmare. Consider carefully how much time you want to spend caring for your tree!

Verify with the nursery that the tree has been correctly identified and labeled

It's a costly mistake that you may not realize for several years, and when you do, could result in the necessity of removing the tree.

Make sure the tree is not root bound

If you get your new tree home and find the root system has overgrown the container - return it. Strangling (girdling) the root system of a young tree can stifle the growth, hinder the health and vigor of the tree, and wreak havoc on the tree's immune system.

Digging the hole

No, we are not going to tell you how to use a shovel; they come with their own instructions! We do want to emphasize that the size of the hole you dig will have a great effect on how well your tree adapts to its new home. You should only go as deep as the tree's root ball, but twice as wide. This allows for horizontal spreading of the root system, vital for the tree to establish itself in its new environment.

Filling the hole

Sometimes the little things mean so much! When you are back-filling (replacing the soil) around the newly planted tree, it is best to use the same soil you removed. This maintains the consistency of the nutrients available to the roots and prevents shock. It is also helpful if you saturate the soil as you back-fill, not only does this help compact the soil around the roots, but it forces the release of excess oxygen. Make sure the base of the plant extends 1 to 2 inches higher than the existing grade to allow for settling.

Tree wells

The easiest way to water your trees, provide good saturation, and prevent run-off, is to create a water well. This is simply mounding the earth in a circle around the base of the tree, about one-third larger than the root ball. This forms a "wall" that prevents water from draining away before it is absorbed into the soil. Water wells are also easier on your water bill!


Another biggie! Improper staking is like deliberately torturing a tree. NEVER tie the stake directly against the tree. This can cause deformation in the development in both the bark and the trunk. Other problems caused by improper staking are weak trunk development, decreased root system, and wind deformation in the top. If the tree does not need to be staked, don't do it. It the tree won't stand upright without support, then make sure it is done properly. Place two poles (approx. 2” diameter) outside the root ball, on either side of the tree. Make sure that one pole is standing in the direction of the typical wind path. The height of the poles should be no more than two-thirds the height of the tree. Use a flexible material for the tie. Never use fishing line, wire or twine as this will cut into the trunk of the tree and cause girdling. Loop the tie material around the trunk and each of the stakes (use separate ties for each stake), forming a figure eight. Employing the figure eight tie allows the tree flexibility in movement, while still providing stability. Don't leave the tree staked for any longer than necessary; most trees can stand on their own after the first year. Make sure you check the tree frequently for girdling or deformation.