Caring for Your Young Trees

Spring is finally getting underway with some warmer temperatures, which means many of you are out in your gardens planting flowers and perhaps even saplings. Spring is a wonderful time to plant a new tree, but keep in mind that young trees need a little extra love.

The Kemper Center for Home Gardening shares the following tips for caring for you saplings.

When to Plant

Plant your sapling as soon as possible. You don’t want to let the roots dry out, but they also cannot sit in water for any longer than 12 hours.

How to Plant

  • Plant your sapling so the soil level matches where it was at the nursery. To find the soil line on your sapling, look for a change in bark color on the trunk.
  • Make sure the roots are spread outward from the base of the trunk. Free up any tangled roots before planting. Remove any roots that are growing in a circular direction around the base rather than outward – these roots could potentially wind around the entire tree and girdle it at the base.
  • Dig your planting hole so that it is about a foot wider than the diameter of the roots, and six inches deeper than the longest root. This gives your tree plenty of room to grow.
  • Fill in the hole around the sapling with soil gently but thoroughly. Make sure to not leave air pockets around the roots. Air pockets can dry the roots out or cause soil to settle irregularly.


  • After planting, water the tree with a watering can or light shower from a hose. Watering will help settle the soil, but too much force can knock the sapling over.
  • Water your young tree enough so that the soil around it stays moist but not wet. How often you need to water depends on weather, species of plant, and soil type.


  • Fertilizing saplings is usually not required, but mixing compost into the soil before filling in the planting hole can be helpful especially if the soil is of poor quality.


  • Staking is not recommended for saplings. They are too small to stake, and should grow a robust root system on their own within a few years.
  • If deer or other animals cause problems in your garden, you may want to surround your sapling with a cage of chicken wire for protection.

The Missouri Botanical Garden has a few upcoming opportunities for visitors to take home free native saplings.

Missouri Arbor Day Tree Giveaway at the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening |Photo by Kat Niehaus

Our Arbor Day Tree Give Away takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the first Friday and Saturday in April. The Kemper Center for Home Gardening gives away Missouri native tree saplingso n a first-come, first served basis (one per family while supplies last).

Visitors to any of our three Meet Me Outdoors in St. Louis spring kickoff events can also take home a free native tree – one per family while supplies lasts. Plan your Meet Me Outdoors visit.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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