Planting Steps Guide

Bonilla Nurseries Serves Customers Throughout Southern California

Planting a tree in California should be a fun-filled exercise. Bonilla Nurseries can help. There are many ways to plant a tree, and the process doesn’t take long. Please note, many local laws require homeowners to contact their utility company before planting to make sure they will not disrupt their operations. Even if your state doesn’t require notification, we recommend doing so.

We will cover three standard tree planting methods, the benefits, and how to make your tree planting adventure a success. As well as the severity of air pockets what they are and how to avoid them.


1. The Burlap Sack Method: Avoiding the Common Pitfalls

Follow these steps, and you’ll ensure a healthy and happy tree:

  1. Never move your tree by the branches or the trunk. Instead, grab a helper and transport the tree to the planting spot by rolling it or carrying the tree by the root ball. 
  2. Dig a saucer-shaped hope in the ground. Measure the root ball’s depth and width. You want the hole to be as deep and twice as wide.
  3. Planting your tree too deep is a common mistake. You can avoid it by positioning the tree so the root flare (where the roots meet the trunk) is at or slightly above the ground. Make sure to compact the soil, so the tree doesn't sink under its weight.
  4. Next, you need to remove the sack. Cut the twine and remove the burlap around the trunk base and on top of the root ball. It can be challenging to tell the difference between synthetic and organic material, so take your time. 
  5. Pay attention to the size of the root ball compared to the rest of the tree. You might need to stabilize the tree with stakes for support for around a year.
  6. Some trees include a wire cage. You should remove at least the upper third of the cage.
  7. When you begin refilling the hole, it is crucial to hold the tree trunk upright. This is where a helper comes in handy. Once filled, densely pack the soil, taking care to remove lumps and air pockets.
  8. We recommend adding two to three inches of mulch around the base of the tree. Make sure to water after.

2. How to Plant a Potted Tree

If the tree arrives in a pot, you’ll need to take extra care while planting it. While transporting a tree in a pot provides numerous advantages, things can go wrong in the planting process. We want to help our customers succeed in their planting adventure. If you have a tree in a pot, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare for the tree planting process by watering the pot. Do this to reduce stress on the tree when you remove it from the pot. We recommend watering at least an hour before you begin to allow the soil to absorb the water.
  2. Once soaked, move the tree to where you will plant it. Grab someone to help you because you should always carry a potted tree by the pot, not the branches or trunk.
  3. Dig a hole. It should go as deep as the pot's full height and be at least two times as wide to allow maximum root growth.
  4. You’ll now see why we recommend watering the tree. Lie the pot and tree on the side. You should be able to gently pull the tree from the pot without damaging it. Support the trunk while you perform this task.
  5. Take a look at the roots. If there are squishy, dead, or tangled roots, make vertical cuts in the root ball's sides. Then cut an X shape at the bottom. This will loosen them. Try to straighten any roots you can.
  6. Position the root flare (where the roots meet the trunk) at or slightly above ground level.
  7. While holding the tree upright, begin refilling the hole. Once you do so, make sure the soil is compacted and firm. Then add two to three inches of mulch and water.

3. How to Grow a Beautiful Tree from a Sapling

Planting from sapling is another popular option. Many of the steps are similar to working with a burlap-sack or pot. However, the sapling is incredibly fragile. Therefore, you should take the utmost caution to avoid damaging your tree before it goes in the ground. The steps are relatively straightforward:

  1. Dig the hole, so it is as deep as the root system and four times as wide.
  2. Remove leaves, twigs, and other organic matter from the hole.
  3. Make sure the root flare is at or slightly above ground level.
  4. Be sure to keep the tree upright as you refill the hole.
  5. Add three inches of mulch and water.


Air Pockets Kill Plants: How You Can Eliminate Them

While plants require oxygen to grow, roots do not expand through them. Also, an air pocket will prevent water from traveling throughout the soil, resulting in an under-watered plant or tree. 

Why Your Plants and Trees Require Air

Plants and trees require plenty of oxygen, just like humans and animals do. They photosynthesize it to make food and use it for breathing. Oxygen is energy. The most imposing, majestic trees in the forest require it the same as a modest cactus. But what many do not realize is how vital the air beneath the surface is.

Below-ground oxygen is critical to root health because it must have a steady supply of oxygen to grow and provide the rest of the plant with oxygen. In many cases, houseplants and trees die because of avoidable root failure. The primary cause is air pockets, and two factors combine to create them:

  • Over-Watering: Be careful not to give your plants too much water. There is no air in water, as you know, so overly-saturated, saturated soil will not provide enough oxygen to your plants. By surrounding your plants with water and not draining their pots, the roots will suffocate.
  • Soil Decay: Compaction is the other factor impacting air pockets. Essentially, soil decay is the opposite problem. When you deny soil the oxygen, it needs to feed the roots, and compacted soil replaces healthy soil. If you do not address this issue, the soil will decay.

Step One: Pre-Soak and Saturate the Root Ball

Once Bonilla Nurseries delivers your tree or plant, you can begin the planting process. However, do not immediately dig a hole and place the root ball inside. Instead, be patient. Purchase a five-gallon bucket at a local hardware store and fill it with water and submerge the plant or tree into the water. Keep it there until there are no longer any bubbles forming on the surface. At that point, you have a fully-saturated root ball.

Step Two: Pre-Soak the Soil for Optimal Plant Health

Pre-soaking the soil is also essential. First, dig a hole twice the size of your root ball. Next, fill it with water using a garden hose. From there, you need to allow the water to drain. It may help to set up a timer because the water should not drain quickly. It makes sense to repeat this twice, just to be safe. 

Step Three: Backfill the Hole Properly

It is tempting to place your plant in the hole, fill it, and then walk away. But backfilling a hole is more complicated than that. Once you finish pre-soaking the soil, the journey is almost over. Taking care during this final step is the last way to ensure you have a flourishing plant or tree for years to come. First, place your tree or plant in the hole. Be sure to stabilize the trunk; you don’t want your tree to topple under its weight! Next, water the area again, which will settle the soil and remove lingering air pockets around the roots. The last step is one many people don’t think about. Create a basin around the plant and put some mulch in that spot. Mulching is crucial to excellent plant growth.

Two Qualities Every Plant-Owner Should Possess

In addition to following the above steps, plant and tree owners can take their preparation to the next level by considering the following bonus tips. Every little bit helps. Planting is a complicated process – and a lot of it rests on instinct and adaptation. Soil conditions, weather, the season, and more all impact the process. Two traits of successful planters are:

  • Adaptability: If you are working with a larger plant that won't fit in a five-gallon bucket, adapt. The pre-soaking process is far too essential to skip, so looking around the house for a solution is critical. 
  • Patience: Because it is vital to ensure all water drains before planting the tree or plant, patience is a virtue. We encourage you to err on the side of caution. You can't wait too long before planting your tree!

Contact Bonilla Nurseries Today

At Bonilla Nurseries, we value your time and your plants. We understand how critical air is to your plants, and we know how to help our clients have a successful planting operation. 

The Tree Planting Process for Commercial Clients

Planting trees should be a rewarding experience, we encourage commercial clients to rethink their landscaping appearance and what kind of long-term investments it can make in how their property looks.

A line of lushly-grown and beautiful trees provides plenty of privacy and shade for security and relaxation. It helps entice customers to your storefront or office. More importantly, planting trees makes a positive impact on the environment, something every corporation can take pride in.


Extreme Heat Protection

Our area is well known for long summers of dry, sustained heat. When daytime highs reach 110° for 3 or more days in a row, this is considered extreme heat. Some plants thrive in these conditions, but others require protection. There are a few things to watch out for during extreme heat - soil will dry quicker, younger trees may see the sun scarring (sunburns for trees), and run out of nutrients sooner. The most important thing to remember during these periods is that trees & plants simply require more water to survive.


1. Add Extra Watering Days

During periods of sustained excessive heat, we recommend adding one day or irrigation to your watering cycle - this is the easiest and most crucial step to take in protecting your plants. It's best to water in the evenings because this allows maximum absorption by the trees and plants before the next day arrives. You want to avoid over-watering your trees, but the soil should be somewhat moist for most of the day. Unlike the regular weather, it's advisable to keep the soil around your trees moist, rather than let them dry between waterings.


2. Prevent Sun-Scarring

To avoid sun-scarring, especially on younger trees and plants, avoid watering leaves directly. Sitting water on leaves can cause water-mineral white spots to burn the trees leaves during extreme heat conditions. Covering the trunk of your trees with reflective paint, tape, or wrap will prevent the tree from drying out. 


3. Keep an Eye out

We recommend keeping a close eye on your trees and plants during hot summers. It's normal for some plants to wilt during the day - this doesn't always mean they're dying - it's the plant's way of minimizing water usage when it needs to conserve. If you notice sustained sun-scarring or wilting, and the tree has a constant 'sickly' appearance, and you've taken the steps above, give us a call at (818) 293-5151.


Frost and Freeze Protection

Frost or Freeze conditions are pretty rare in Los Angeles, and unlike most areas in the country, they don't occur every year. Frost conditions, nights where temperatures reach below freezing (32F°) usually occurs January through middle to late February. Temperatures below freezing can cause damage to certain varieties of trees and shrubs that are not commonly grown in the area. If you have questions on the hardiness of your plants or how cold your particular area gets before purchasing new trees and plants, txt (818) 293-5151.

Smaller and newly planted trees and shrubs tend to be the most susceptible to damage from cold weather. All trees and plants can benefit from the following measures to help prevent damage from frost & freezing conditions:


1. Water with Care

The laws of thermodynamics prove that it is more difficult to cool humid air than dry air, so be sure to thoroughly water all of your trees and plants during periods of forecast frost or freeze. Also, get your entire yard wet in the evening before forecast/ freeze. This boosts the humidity in the immediate microclimate and will help minimize the effects of frost/ freeze on your trees and plants.


2. Cover with Frost Cloth

Where feasible, cover plants with a frost cloth or old blankets before a night forecast to bring a freeze. Don't use plastic - plastic increases the chance of freeze damage. For larger trees and plants, you can apply Frost Proof insulating spray. This applies a thin layer of a wax-like substance that minimizes evaporation from the leaves, thus minimizing frost/freeze damage.


3. Provide some Heat

People have had success in preventing frost/freeze damage by stringing up Christmas lights in their trees. The older style lights (incandescent) provide the best warming effect. It may sound silly, but a few degrees can make a huge difference. There are other popular methods of protecting against freeze damage, but due to the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of weather, they aren't guaranteed to work.


Don't Forget!

Bonilla Nurseries grows our trees and plants locally (Los Angeles County), so they are well-suited for our summers.