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Planting and Mulching a Tree for Arbor Day

Trees are a great way for us to contribute to the well-being of our environment. By planting trees, we can foster cleaner air, provide habitats for wildlife, and enhance the beauty of our surroundings.

Group planting a new tree
Digging a hole for a new tree

It's always great to plant a tree and Arbor Day is a great way to bring it top-of-mind in a busy schedule. Whether its by ourselves or with a group, planting a tree can be fun and rewarding.

As we plant and maintain our trees this Arbor Day, here are a few thoughts for planting and caring for your tree for healthy, long-term growth.

Select the right tree:

Trees can be expensive! Especially since I'm thrifty, I spend a lot of time thinking about what the best tree for my personal preference (for example, if and when it blooms) and the space (e.g. size, light, soil type). Sunlight requirements, growth rate, and mature size are all important to think about to make sure the tree grows well in the location that we want.

I’m a big fan of finding local plants, trees, and shrubs. Not only does this give the tree a better chance of success—it’s used to our Northern Virginia climate!—but it helps the local wildlife and sustainability of the DMV region.

Dig the right hole size

Trees and shrubs can be heavy, so dig a hole that is slightly shallower than the root ball. It’s important to have the root ball be slightly higher than their soil line and, given the weight of the tree and the soil under the root ball, it may sink a little bit. I like shooting for the very base of the tree to be 1-2 inches above ground level so that it still have space to settle.

I like digging a little wider so that the roots have space and are encouraged to spread out. This helps create a healthier tree and overall soil environment for your other plants (or grass!).

Amend the soil with with compost

I put all of the soil that I take out of the hole to the side. I then take away 25% of the soil and replace it with compost, a really good soil conditioner, and mix it all together. Compost provides essential nutrients, improves soil structure, and enhances moisture retention, creating a favorable environment for root development.

In Manassas, VA, it’s really easy to find bagged compost for smaller jobs (like a single shrub) or to buy bulk compost for pick up or delivery (for large projects!). We have some great resources to help you calculate how much compost is needed, identify a good compost, and how bulk compost delivery works.

Plant the tree

I then “walk” the tree and get it to the center of the hole. Please double check that the root back is just above the soil line! If it is, I backfill the hole with my amended soil, stepping on it occasionally to give it some stability for the tree or shrub. I’ll stake the tree if it’s recommended at this point.

Water the tree well

I thoroughly water the newly planted tree to settle the soil and provide hydration to the roots. I water the full area that I dug up so that I’m giving water not only to the root ball but the soil around it so that the roots are encouraged to grow outward and into the existing soil.

Mulch the tree

Mulching the tree is important for many reasons, including protecting the soil and holding in moisture. We have some great resources for how to choose a quality mulch and why we prefer organic mulches.

When placing the mulch, I put down 2-4 inches in total and leave a few inches of “bare” soil at the base of the tree trunk. There are a lot of tree roots that are very close to the top of the soil, especially at the immediate base of the tree. Covering the roots with mulch can create too much moisture and cause root rot.

Indeed, please avoid creating a “mulch volcano.” I see a lot of trees throughout the Prince William County area, especially in commercial areas, where the mulch gets higher and higher as it gets to the tree trunk. It’s easy to think that this is therefore the “right way” to mulch a tree since it was done by a professional landscaper. However, it’s a long-standing practice that’s not good for the tree.

By following these simple planting practices, we can provide our new tree with a great start! I feel great after planting a new tree. I get the immediate satisfaction of seeing the difference in my landscape and enjoy watching how it changes the environment over time.


About our Prince William County Compost & Mulch Facility

Freestate Farms makes premium landscaping products—compost, topsoil, and mulch—by recycling food and yard waste in Manassas, VA. Our composts, topsoil, and mulches are specially designed to increase the health and productivity of local soils, and with our focus on sustainable practices, this lets the environment and your garden Grow Good, together. We sell bulk compost, bagged compost, bulk natural mulches, bulk dyed mulches, bagged dyed mulches, and bulk topsoil for pickup and delivery.


Compost for sale

Browse our landscaping products: compost, topsoil, and mulch.

Food waste for composting

Learn about composting food and yard waste at Freestate Farms.

Compostable items ->

Proud member of:
Prince William Chamber of Commerce logo
US Composting Council Member
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