Guidelines for Planting

These are our basic guidelines on the planting and immediate after-care of new trees and shrubs.


Container-grown plants can be planted at any time but must be kept well watered. Late September to the end of April is ideal. Bare root plants should be planted between November and March.

Care of Plants Before Planting

Keep the soil moist within the pot of a container-grown plant prior to planting. If you intend to store bare-rooted plants, it is a good idea to dig them into a vegetable garden or similar as a temporary measure, making sure that all roots are covered with friable moist soil.

If you are planting one of Nicholsons’ own bare-rooted plants, you should note that these are supplied in special co-extruded bags. These plants should be kept securely tied in their bags until they are ready to be planted. Plants in their bags should be stored away from direct sunlight, frost and wind, and the roots should not be allowed to dry out. Ideally, dip the roots before planting, and carry out planting within a few days of purchase or seek further advice.

The Hole

Dig the hole as large as possible, ensuring that the roots or root ball of the plant will fit well into the hole. Typically, the hole will need to be one-and-a-half times the size of the roots or root ball, both wide and deep. It is important to dig over the bottom of the hole as this will aid drainage and assist good root establishment. Beware of clay sites and of creating a mini pond – ensure good drainage.

The Soil

Prepare your soil well. Cultivate to a fine tilth (maximum clod size should be less than 40mm). Check for compaction at the base of the hole, ensuring you can dig freely to 450mm. If there is compaction, loosen the soil.

If you are unsure about the suitability of your soil type to the species you are hoping to plant, please don’t hesitate to contact us. A good planting compost should be dug in to the base of the hole, as this will encourage deep root growth. A suitable stake (where appropriate) should be driven well into the hole prior to back filling.

Guide to planting in soils infographic - Gardening Advice


Depending upon the plant species and the condition of your soil, you may wish to consider mixing in very well rotted manure

(approximately 20% of the soil volume) to improve structure and fertility. Alternatively use a fertiliser like Growmore in the summer or a slow release fertiliser such as Osmacote in the winter.


Position the tree and adjust its depth in the hole. The final depth of the tree must be at the same depth as it was in the container or just above the start of the stem base. Back filling should be done with a mixture of soil taken from the hole and some planting medium. If a watering tube is being fitted, it should be included as the plant is placed within the hole.

The soil should be added steadily in 50mm layers and lightly with your foot. Take care not to squash the soil as this will force out air and create anaerobic conditions.

  • Smaller Bare Root Trees and Hedging – similar practice applies, but the hole can be smaller and in some cases notch planted without the need for extra compost.The need for weed control is vital as mulches are often not economic to apply on a large scale.
  • Rootballed Trees – special care should be taken when planting rootballed trees.The rootball is often wrapped in hessian and wire.As little disturbance as possible to the rootball is vital – once the plant is in the ground the wire should be undone from the root collar and folded back. The Hessian should also be pulled back. Both wire and hessian will rot in time and do not cause any problem to the growth of the tree. If in doubt ask for further advice.


Trees may need staking and this will depend on the site conditions and the size of the tree to be planted. Smaller trees and trees in sheltered sites may not need staking at all.

With some container grown or rootballed trees, it may be difficult to position the stake close to the main trunk so two stakes should be used with a cross rail and the tree attached with a tree tie. Stakes are only a short-term measure and should be removed by the third season.This will allow the roots to anchor and support the tree naturally. Do not worry if it bends in the wind – but check for excessive wind-rock and re-stake if concerned.


Smaller trees especially may need protection and we have listed various options in our Sundries section. The guards should be appropriate to the size of the plant and the type of pest. They should be fitted at the time of planting.


To complete the planting a mulch should be spread 75mm deep around the base of the tree to retain the moisture after planting and suppress weeds. Allow a 50mm gap between the trunk and the mulch.

Top Dressing

Top dress the tree with Fish, Blood and Bone in March at the rate of 3oz per square yard and mulch annually to ensure maximum growth and quick establishment.


Water in well, but do not saturate. Water is the most essential factor for any tree in its first season. Please see our Watering Guide for more information. Use the squeeze test and check regularly depending on the weather and size of the plant.


Weed control is vital to the successful establishment of the plants. Although mulch reduces weeds, other forms of weed control may be needed. See our Weeding Guidelines for further details. Spirals used for rabbit control can often be taken off after 4-6 years.Take them off piecemeal and check for new damage before removing them from all your trees. Check them regularly as they can occasionally strangle the tree.

Larger trees that have been staked and tied will need regular checks to loosen the tie and after 3-4 years may need the stakes removing altogether. The tree should not rely on the stake for support for too long – they need to be allowed to move to encourage the stem tostrengthen and take the full strain of the wind itself!


Where planting is carried out in large schemes, it is possible to install an irrigation scheme with individual drippers to trees and trickle pipe on hedges and borders. See Watering Guidelines for more details.

If you would like further information, please don’t hesitate to Contact us.