How to Plant Standard Trees (Video)

How to Plant a Large Ornamental Tree 

This video shows you how to plant ornamental trees when they delivered in larger sizes, called standards. The process is actually the same as for a fruit tree, but we have a video on that too
All standards are delivered bareroot in winter (Nov-March).

If you prefer words, scroll down the page for written instructions.


Hello & welcome to Ashridge Trees (Nurseries). This film shows you how to plant an ornamental standard tree, such as a flowering Cherry, London Plane, or Weeping Willow. Ornamental trees are usually planted bare rooted, so the planting season is from November through to March when they're dormant. Before you start, you will need, apart from your tree, a spade, sledgehammer, cane, a tree stake, wheelbarrow, soil improver or compost, bone meal, mycorrhizal fungi, mulch matt, pegs, secateurs, hammer and nails, tree tie and tree guard, and a pair of scissors.

Take the tree out of the bag and check it carefully. Cut back any damaged roots and branches with the secateurs. Put the tree root ball down on the ground, and with a cane mark out a square around the roots, one third larger than the root area, to give you the size of hole you need to dig.

Although we've not done so here, it's best practice to put the tree back in the bag to keep its roots damp. If you're digging holes before your trees arrive, a good size is one meter square by 30cm deep. Mark the hole to keep the edges straight, scrape off the surface weeds, and then start digging.

Remember, a square hole is always better for plant establishment than a round one.

Before planting, ensure the roots are thoroughly wet, then find the root collar, which is at the level at which the tree grew before it was lifted, and which you can recognize from the high tide mark left by the soil where it grew previously. That mark will be the depth that you plant to. Never plant too deeply: if in doubt, shallow is good.

With the tree in place, lay the cane across the hole, and the tidemark should be level with the top of the cane, which will also be the final soil level. Remove more soil from the bottom of the hole if the tidemark is higher than the cane. Now, put the tree back in the bag and improve the soil in the hole, unless you're on heavy clay, in which case you should add nothing at this stage.

Get about a bucket of compost, then dig it into the soil at the bottom of the hole. Then add some more compost to the soil to be returned back into the hole around the roots and mix it all up.

Always put the stake into the ground before you plant your tree, place it off-centre, so it will be between your tree and the prevailing wind. Hammer the stake into the hole until it is really firm. At this stage, it is helpful to have someone like Rodney around as you may need an extra hand. Check the level of the tidemark again with your cane.

Once you're happy with that, backfill around the roots, so they're half covered with your improved soil mixture. Very gently, lift the tree about 1cm, and then press it down again so the soil settles around its roots. Then sprinkle the mycorrhizal fungi around the root area of the tree, following the instructions on the packet. Add more soil around the roots, firming it down gently with your foot as you go.

All larger trees need staking and tying. This has to be done to hold their roots still, so they can establish while at the same time, allowing the tree to move freely in the wind, which will help it thicken up and strengthen. Make sure that when the tie's around the tree, there is a spacer stopping abrasion by the stake, and that the buckle is on the far side of the stake, away from the tree.

When you're happy with the position of the tree tie, secure to the stake with a nail or a screw to stop it slipping.

Weigh out some bone meal, as per the instructions on the box. Bone meal is strong, so do not overdose. Sprinkle evenly over the planting hole and then gently mix into the first inch of soil around the roots.

Water the root area thoroughly after planting, obviously the bigger the tree, the more water you will need. You might have to do this slowly in order to get good penetration in heavier soils that do not drain freely. Please remember that the single biggest cause of failure in newly planted trees is under watering between planting time and the following September.

Be prepared to water once or twice a week through the spring and summer, unless there has been heavy rain.

A mulch mat is not essential, but it makes an appreciable difference to moisture retention and weed suppression. Fit your mulch mat around the tree and stake, making sure the slit points away from the direction of the prevailing wind.

To hold it in place, cut a hole in each corner & peg it down.

A heavy-duty tree guard protects your tree from vermin, cats' claws, strimmers & mowers. One end is not perforated for about 15cm: this is the bottom and also acts as a spray guard. Just open up your heavy-duty tree guard and wrap it around the trunk of the tree. It'll spring back into place and stay there all by itself.

You've just planted goodly sized tree, and you will find a few things more satisfying than watching it grow. Well done!

Written Instructions

All bare rooted trees, whether fruit or ornamental, need the same basic treatment before, during and after planting. 

1. Water/Moisture

Bare root trees cannot stand their roots drying out. Once dry, they will at best struggle and at worst die. Plant roots store nourishment which is used to regenerate themselves when transplanted, fuel growth in spring, survive droughts and fight disease. As the roots dry out, that nourishment is lost and cannot be replaced. So dry roots mean dead trees. At the same time, the roots need to breathe and with very few exceptions, putting them in a bucket of water and leaving them there for more than a day will kill them about as quickly as their drying out. 

On receipt open the packaging carefully and put your hand down inside the bag(s). If the roots feel damp you need to do nothing for the time being. Keep them in the bag and check them daily - if they feel as if they are drying out take the trees out and dunk the roots in a bucket of water for a few minutes, then put them back in the bag.

Until planting, store the trees in their bags in a cool place out of the sun and out of the wind. 

On planting day, have a bucket of water by you as you plant. Keep the trees in their bags and take them out one at a time as each is planted. Wet the tree roots well immediately before they go into their hole, sprinkle Rootgrow on to them while they are wet and cover with your planting mixture before they have a chance to dry out. 

2. Holes, soil and planting depth

Bareroot trees have their roots cut back when they are lifted. This is normal and roots regenerate well (we recommend Rootgrow to speed the process enormously). To help the new roots grow, the soil around them (your planting mixture) should be as fine as you can make it. Remove stones, weed roots and other unwanted rubbish. Mix the soil from the hole with about 25% of its own volume of good garden compost or well rotted manure. Work it all together making sure any clods are broken up. This is the planting mixture you will return to the hole, around the tree's roots.

The planting hole should be square and wide rather than deep. We recommend a hole that is 1 metre (3 feet) square and 30 cms (12 inches deep). Once it is dug out, roughly break up the floor of the hole to help drainage and root penetration.

Bang in the tree stake off centre in the direction the prevailing wind comes from so the tree is blown away from it rather than pushed (and rubbed) against it. Offer the tree up to the hole to make sure it is deep enough and that the roots are not cramped. Build a mound of planting mix in the centre of the hole to lift the tree up to the point where it is at the same level relative to the surrounding ground as it was before it was lifted. (There is usually a "high water mark" just above the roots which shows where the soil was in the nursery). In the books this is called the "root collar" and it can also be identified by a bulge in the trunk just above the roots.

When the tree is planted the surrounding soil should be at the level of, or slightly lower than the root collar. Planting too shallow is not serious. Planting too deep is. After lack of water, the main cause of failure with bareroot trees is they are planted TOO DEEP in the ground. While bark is designed to withstand animal and insect attack, it rots easily under the soil. Then the flow of sap from the roots to the tree is interrupted and the tree dies.

Use a tree tie to attach the tree to the stake which will help hold it in place - very useful if you are planting single handed. The tie should be low down - we suggest it should be 30-45cms above soil level. If it is too high the trunk of the tree will not strengthen as it grows larger and the head will be in danger of breaking off in the wind. When the tree is upright, dampen the roots again and sprinkle them with Rootgrow. Then carefully return the planting mix to the hole gently firming with the ball of your foot as you go. 

3. Firming the plant in the ground

Be firm! Once the planting mix is all back in the hole, firm it down again . Don't stamp, but use your full weight and walk round the top of the planting hole. Roots need to be in contact with the surrounding soil to grow, and they need support from the surrounding soil to prevent the tree above being rocked by the wind. 

4. Aftercare

Keep the weeds away and make sure the roots have enough water. Watering heavily every few days in a dry spring and summer is much better than watering a little every day. Once the ground is soaked, it will stay moist for some time. If in doubt, dig down near the roots about three inches, and if the soil is dry it's time to water. 

You can see all our native and ornamental trees in standard sizes here.

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Thank you, The Ashridge Nurseries Team.

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