Planting Trees And Shrubs - Width
I didn’t have a planting width photo, but I thought this tree was cool

Planting trees and shrubs is easy once you know a few principles. I know you want to give them the best chance at flourishing that you can.

You’ve just spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on these plants, so it makes sense to spend a little bit of time planting them correctly in your organic garden.

When I was a young landscaper, I planted a lot of trees. If the root ball was 36 inches wide, I probably chose a planting width of about 40 inches.

If it was 36 inches deep, I probably chose a planting depth of about 36 inches.

That’s the way almost all landscapers do it, because who wants to dig more dirt than they have to? But then I studied organic gardening and learned proper technique for planting trees and shrubs, and I’m passing it on to you.

Planting Width – How Wide Should You Go?

The thing is, you’re really preparing an entire area for your shrubs and trees. If you just go for a planting width of 40 inches with straight sides for a 36 inch root ball, the roots aren’t going to be very excited about leaving that hole.

In compacted soil, they may just turn around when they hit the edge of your hole and grow in a circle within the soil, resulting in an unstable, unhealthy, unsafe tree.

If you’re trying to do the best job possible when planting trees and shrubs, go wider with your planting width and make sides that have a more gradual slope. I now dig my holes at least 1.5 times wider than the root ball, if not 2-3 times wider, especially in compacted soil.

While I rarely recommend using a rototiller because it destroys a lot of the life in the soil as well as the structure of the soil, when you are preparing an area for planting trees and shrubs, a rototiller is helpful to both loosen the soil and incorporate 6” of compost into the planting area.

Compost is generally used in organic gardening instead of topsoil because it brings many benefits and topsoil can cause many problems.

Planting Trees And Shrubs – Conclusion

Planting trees and shrubs in a hole that is too narrow will result in plants that look good for awhile, but may show signs of suffering years later.

Go for a planting width at least 1.5 times wider than the root ball. If you have a different rule of thumb you like to go by, let me know below.


  1. Franck Quinard+smilinggardener on March 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Hi Phil,I have a 4 years old avocado tree, 5 feet tall that I’m preparing to plant it out. Thank you for the tip, I was going to dig a hole as large and deep as the pot and that’s it :)But I have a question though, 6 inches from the base, I have a Y shape with about 1 foot on one side going straight froward from the initial trunk below and a 4 feet tall “trunk” much wider on the other side going straight up but obviously starting on the side of the main trunk base. Should I cut the small one (how and when) or should I just leave both of them?Thank you,Franck

  2. Phil on March 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    Hi Franck,Can you email me a photo by chance? I’m having trouble visualizing it.

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