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Tree Selection, Planting, Watering, and Maintenance

Star Magnolia at Overlook Road


The Tree Division of Arlington’s DPW selects and plants all street trees.  For an in-depth discussion of the many things to consider when choosing a tree for your own yard, take a look at the Trees Are Good website of the International Society of Arboriculture.  Here you will find the questions to ask yourself that will guide you towards making the right choice for your particular situation.


The Arbor Day website offers instructions and videos on how to plant a bare-root, containerized, or balled-and-burlapped tree.

Note that the trunk flare should be just visible above the ground after planting.  If your tree is balled-and-burlapped, you will need to undo the burlap before you can see the flare. Also, you will likely need to remove the top few inches of soil around the trunk before the flare is visible.  The same may be true for a container-grown tree.

Any nylon wrappings or plastic or wire cages should be completely removed once the tree is in the hole.  If the root ball is hard to maneuver or is in danger of collapsing, natural burlap may be left in place around the lower half of the root ball. Burlap should be cut away from the top half of the root ball so that roots can grow out freely into the soil.

After planting, be sure to remove from the tree all ties and tags that might ultimately constrict the trunk or limbs as they grow.

Additional details may be found at the Trees Are Good website. The site provides detailed instructions on how to plant a tree, from digging the hole to watering once the tree is in the ground.

This Old House has also produced slide shows and videos relating to tree planting:


Bare-Root Street Trees

advocate article watering trees May2015

Where to add water to a watering bag

  • Trees with watering bags: Refill the pouch in the bag via the small slit in the top of the watering bag once a week during the growing season. These bags release slowly drip water onto the tree roots.
  • Trees without watering bags: Deliver 4 gallons of water to the tree’s roots 2x per week.
  • In very dry, hot weather, the tree will need watering more often. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings.
  • For the next 2 growing seasons (years), if the tree does not receive abundant rainfall, water it deeply at least once a week.
  • The growing season ends when the soil is frozen.

Balled-and-Burlapped or Containerized Trees

In the absence of rain, a newly planted tree should be watered at least once a week, and more frequently when the weather is hot.  Slow, deep watering with 10-15 gallons is best, to allow the water to soak through to the bottom of the root ball.   The goal is to keep the soil just moist at all times.  Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings.  Watering should continue until the ground freezes, if there is little or no rain.  This same pattern of watering should be repeated for the first 2 years after planting.

Once your tree is established, little care is needed beyond light pruning to remove winter damage, and, as the tree ages, some corrective pruning to shape its growth.  An occasional application of compost over the root zone is all that is typically needed in the way of fertilizer.  If you decide to hire someone to do the work for you, we recommend hiring a Massachusetts Certified Arborist.

De-Icing Salts

In winter trees planted near streets and sidewalks are often exposed to de-icing salts.  A comparison of the efficacy and impact, including plant toxicity, of the various salts can be found here.

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