The Best Soil for Planting Trees

The Best Soil for Planting Trees

Humans don’t just need food to survive - they need healthy, unprocessed foods to live and be healthy. And so does your tree.

The best soil for planting trees will give the trees, enough sustenance to grow healthy and strong. The root and the system that lies underneath the tree, are constantly absorbing nutrients that travel all the way through the trunk and branches to the leaves.

You wouldn’t think it, but trees are a bit more complex than people when it comes to food. Before you choose one to plant in your garden or a container, you first have to consider the tree soil it needs, to ensure healthy growth.

Using the Right Soil for Your Container Tree

Soil needs to check three items to ensure a proper growth environment for trees:

  • Aeration;
  • Drainage;
  • Provide moisture.

The right tree planting soil can be a great source of nutrition for trees, providing it with:

  • Nitrogen - helps the leaves and stem grow;
  • Potassium - boosts tree immune system;
  • Phosphorus - helps the root develop;
  • Secondary nutrients like calcium or magnesium which add to overall tree health.

Some tree species can thrive only in specific types of soil. The right fertilizer, however, can help the tree grow nicely even in poor soil that doesn’t naturally have a lot of nutrients. But, if you want to plant trees in a container, then the soil from your garden or back yard may not be the best choice.

Container trees can be a good option to have better control over the growth of the tree when you don’t have a lot of space to allow the trees to develop however they want. Regular soil isn’t meant to sit in a container - it’s meant to stay in the ground.

Regular soil could be more prone to weeds or even diseases because it usually does not drain in containers. When you water the soil, it may even become compact and the tree won’t be able to extract nutrients from it anymore.

The best soil for planting trees in containers is soil-based compost. You can purchase it from nurseries where you buy the saplings or at stores that sell garden supplies. This potting mix for trees is made from potting soil, compost, sand, and perlite. You can also make it if you want to. You can find more creative potting mixes for trees online and incorporate even more essential nutrients to ensure your trees stay healthy.

How to Dig a Hole for a Tree

If you want to plant a tree in your yard, or on any other piece of land, you have to pay some attention to the hole where your tree will be placed. Most people think that trees require very deep holes, sometimes even slightly deeper than the root ball. It seems that’s not the ideal method.

Trees need wide holes, not deep ones. Some recommend you dig a hole even two or five times wider than the root ball. You can dig even wider for sites with very poor soil. As for depth, you can dig a hole the same size as the root ball. That way, the tree can be placed on undisturbed soil.

This is because most roots tend to branch out rather than grow by going down more and more in the soil. Some species do have a more vertical root shape, but the shape of the tree can greatly depend on the type of soil the tree sits on and other factors. Your safest bet is to dig a wider hole and plant the tree in it.

All you need after this is a shovel and to choose the location of the tree. If the soil is dry or poor, you may have a difficult time digging through it. A wooden shovel can even break in the process. Choose a sturdier shovel if you know the soil tends to be dry.

Once you dig the hole, place the tree in the middle, and backfill with the soil you removed. You don’t necessarily need to add extra organic material. Just be sure to remove any stones or debris from it. Add some water on the backfill and gently press the soil to remove any air pockets.

When to Fertilize Trees and Shrubs?

You usually don’t need fertilizer for newly planted trees or shrubs if they are not potted, or in containers. If the soil is rich, it can provide enough sustenance to the plants to ensure they grow properly.

You should add fertilizers to trees or shrubs only if you notice the plants aren’t growing properly (which may mean they aren’t getting enough nutrients), or if you test the soil and find out any deficiencies that could affect the plant. Here are a few tips on choosing when (and if) to fertilize the plants:


  • Plant growth - If the plants are in poor condition, such as too small, or their leaves dry up, it may be time to fertilize them. But before you do, check if there are other possible explanations: compacted soil, pests, weather conditions, etc.                                            
  • Location - If your shrubs or trees sit on an area that’s regularly fertilized, you don’t need any additional fertilization just for these plants. If the soil is poorer or drier, then fertilization may help ensure the plants get frequent nutrients;
  • Age of the plant: Recently planted trees and shrubs can benefit from slow-release fertilization to help them develop, but only if the plants need the extra nutrients.

If you need to fertilize, apply it in early spring. Do it only if you can ensure proper moisture either by weather conditions or irrigation systems.

Fertilization is a must for container trees and shrubs. You should make sure to apply it once every two weeks if you’re using an organic, high-quality fertilizer. You could do it even more often if you go for something cheaper.

Plants in containers don’t have as many options for nutrients as the trees in a forest, so you have to provide it for them recurrently. If you’re only feeding the trees with water, it’s very likely they won’t develop properly. Water lacks all those essential nutrients naturally found in soil.

Additionally, think about the type of fertilizer you choose based on the type of soil you’re dealing with and look for the right nutrients the tree requires. Organic fertilizer is always the best option, of course. Even if the tree is in a container, you still want to recreate its natural environment.

Why Does Soil Matter for Tree Health?

The environment is a complex system. Sometimes, multiple complex systems intertwined so seamlessly, that many people don’t even realize how much is going on beneath the surface of their lawn. The problem is, if just one component of any system is wrong, or thrown off balance, everything else can fall like a house of cards.

And soil provides more help to the environment than you think:

  • Supports biodiversity;
  • Filters pollutants;
  • Physically supports vegetation;
  • Provides and cycles nutrients;
  • Regulates water.

Soil is made up of tiny particles that have pore spaces between them. Choosing the best soil for planting trees is essential to their health because the wrong kind can prevent them from accessing water and nutrients. Without its food, the tree starves and eventually dies.

The most common types of soil are:

  • Silt - has a smoother texture, almost slippery, and is better at retaining moisture and nutrients;
  • Sandy - rougher texture, and doesn’t retain a lot of moisture;
  • Clay - very compact, and has a difficult time retaining moisture and nutrients;
  • Loamy - also known as the "gardener’s soil" because it can hold water, drain, and is rich with nutrients.

What’s good for one tree isn’t necessarily good for another. It’s why you should always opt for native breeds you know can thrive in the type of soil you have, as well as the climate. You may get away with non-native species if you plant container trees as long as you’re careful with ensuring a nutrient-rich soil.

Not every tree would be a good fit if you are dealing with clay soil, for example. That is true especially for trees that can't withstand the summer temperatures when clay soil can harden. Birch is a good example of a tree that can grow without a problem in clay soil or a lot of conifers like pine or juniper.

It’s not to say there aren’t ways around that. You could add extra fertilization to make up for what the soil is missing. But there’s only so much you can do. Nature comes with its own rules, and you can’t always go around them.

Plant a Tree Today!

Tree planting is one of the best things you can do, both as a hobby and to help save the planet. The world is losing its natural forest at alarming rates because of changes in the climate, wildfires, and human activity which continues to cut down trees for economic gain.

But you can help restore the world’s natural forest one day at a time. Even a container tree helps meet this objective, so don’t put it off much longer. Go out and plant a tree!


As many as you like!


You’re a hero! You’ve helped eliminate 10 tons CO2 from the environment!

Planting a forest