• Select a sunny, well-drained area for your spruce and pine.  Keep in mind that they will eventually become quite large.
  • Stake the location of each tree with a lath painted or flagged white.
  • It is recommended that spruce and pine be planted at least 15 feet apart.  There should 8 ft. or more between the stake and the closest structures.
  • Stand back and imagine those trees at 20, 30, and 40 years when they may reach heights of 70-100 ft.  Many live 200 years or more.  Are there overhead power lines that will pose problems?
  • The person doing the digging MUST call for LOCATES to insure that no utilities are buried below your planned excavations. Call www.onecallofwyoming or a minimum of 48-72 hours prior to digging the planting holes.  They will mark where all utilities in the area are located.  This is a free service.
  • There are various ways to dig your planting holes.  #1 is by hand but not very practical for large trees or large numbers of trees.  #2 is to hire a local excavation or landscape contractor to dig all holes at once, which should not take more than a few hours.  #3 is to rent a mini-excavator from a local rental service and dig the holes yourself.  With good planning, you may only need it for a few hours.
  • To make back-filling a hole MUCH easier, first remove the sod and place it in a separate pile.  Place the remaining excavated soil on two sheets of old plywood placed closely to opposite edges of the hole. This will make shoveling/hoeing dirt back into the hole much, much easier.  Consider in advance where you will take the soil that is left over.

                     Hole Excavation


  • The depth of the planting hole should be 1” less than the depth of the root ball.  Place a straight-edged pole or 2×4 across the top of hole and measure from the bottom of the hole to this edge.  When the tree is planted and the hole is back-filled, the top of the root ball should be 1 to 1.5” higher than the surrounding ground level.  This will insure that the wealth of small roots just below the surface can access adequate oxygen.
  • The hole should be 1-2 times wider than the root ball.  This causes more work at back-filling time but insures that the soil surrounding the root ball is loose and airy. This makes it easier for the new hair-like roots to grow outward, which boosts the success of your transplant.
  • Lift the tree by its wire basket, never the trunk. Using a skid-steer or tractor with forks, rig chains to the wire basket to lift it.  The baskets are rated to hold this weight.
  • Center the tree in the hole, lower it in order to double-check the root ball height, and make any adjustments necessary.  Placing a long straight edge over the root ball and surrounding ground works well.  It should rock slightly.
  • Once the tree is placed, back-fill soil around the lower 1/3 of root ball and tamp with your foot to stabilize.
  • Because of the high winds in our region we do not recommend cutting or removing the strapping, wire or burlap. This will give the tree time to get established; however, it is important to cut the straps loose after about a year from planting.
  • Continue back-filling till 2/3 of the hole is filled.
  • Saturate/flood the back-filled hole.  After the soil settles, add more dirt. Note:  It’s important that you don’t leave voids because roots will not grow across air spaces.
  • While filling the remaining top 1/3 of the hole, add fertilizer that is specially formulated for transplanted trees.  (See below.) Do not tamp this final layer of soil.  Keep it airy.
  • It is best NOT to cover the existing root-ball with back-fill.  It has rich amounts of fine, hairy roots that need to access oxygen, nutrients, and water.
  • Build a well around the hole’s perimeter so that deep soaking can occur regularly in the first 2 years.
  • Applying a 2-inch layer of mulch will keep the soil moist and cool, while also discouraging weeds and grass.  (Warning: mulch applied deeper than this may starve the roots of oxygen.) Shredded wood is the best form of mulch.  Keep mulch 6 inches away from trunk of tree.
  • Cut and unwrap the twine that’s been holding up the branches.  It make take a few days for the branches to settle.
  • It is critically important that you stake/tie the tree during the first year so the fine hair-like roots can establish themselves.  A newly planted tree that sways too much in windy conditions will be forced to continually start over in establishing those tiny roots.
  • Drive three steel posts around the tree.  Use twine or wire to tie the tree. Protect the young tree bark by using straps or sections of garden hose at the places where the twine/wire wraps around trunk.
  • It’s best to loop the ties around the tree trunk several feet higher than the height where the twine/wire wraps around the stakes. This angle keeps the wind from jostling the fence post.
  • In the case of deciduous trees, wrap the first 3-4 feet of tree trunk in tree-wrapping or perforated plastic pipe to protect from rabbits, rodents, and sunburn.
  • If deer are a concern, wrap wire fencing around the fence posts, making sure that branches are free from rubbing.  Placing the wire fencing 12” above the ground allows for easier mowing/trimming.
  • Be sure to remove the ties after first year.
  • Regular watering in the first two years will protect your investment of money, time, and materials.
  • By year three, remove the well from around tree and apply water to the entire area under and beyond the tree’s drip-line.  This will encourage the roots and canopy to stretch out wider.  Continuing to flood the original well for years can lead to rotting of the trunk at ground level and can keep a tree from becoming broadly anchored.

Water Requirements for Newly Planted Spruce:

(According to South Dakota State Extension Service)

  1. For spruce 7 to 9 ft. tall, water 3 times per week for first two weeks.  Each watering should provide about 50 gallons per tree.  These amounts should be adjusted for smaller or larger trees.
  2. For the remainder of first year, water twice per week with 50 gallons per tree each time
  3. For the second & third years, water once per week, using 60-70 gallons per tree.
  4. As the trees age, they will grow larger in diameter if the lawn/area around the drip-line is watered generally.  As the roots stretch out farther for water, so will the branches above.  (Same goes for fertilizing.)
  5. To calculate how much water is being delivered, you can measure your flow rate with a stopwatch and a 5 gallon bucket.  Check the flow rate at end of hose near tree, rather than at the faucet.
    • 0.25 minutes (15 seconds) to fill a 5 gallon bucket = 15 gallons per minute (gpm)
    • 0.50 minutes (30 seconds) to fill a 5 gallon bucket = 10 gpm
    • 1.0 minutes (60 seconds) to fill a 5 gallon bucket = 5 gpm
    • 1.5 minutes (90 seconds) to fill a 5 gallon bucket = 3.5 gpm
    • 2.0 minutes (120 seconds) to fill a 5 gallon bucket = 2.5 gpM

Fertilizer for Transplanted Trees

A widely available fertilizer (Walmart, ACE Hardware, etc.) is made by Miracle Gro. Spray this directly on the tree (mixed as directed on the package) every two weeks from May through June (8 times). This product contains essential minerals for a deep green tree.


Trees require a slow release fertilizer unlike what is available at most Home and Garden centers. Newly transplanted trees can be fertilized with a product such as Doggett’s Tree Rooter 10-22-22. This fertilizer is specially formulated to be a slow release, low Nitrogen, high Micro-Nutrient product. It is mixed 1 lb per 5 gallons of water and can be applied just outside the root ball and in the top 6″ of back fill as this is where the new roots will form first. Pineco can supply this fertilizer in pre-packaged bags for $7.50 per tree.  You can also order it directly from Warne Chemical & Equipment in Rapid City, SD.

For established trees, use Doggett’s Pride 20-12-8 slow release granular tree fertilizer once per year.  If your soil has a high Ph, you may need to add chelated iron, as well.

For Professional fertilizing and tree care a local resource is:

Big Horn Tree and Shrub Care, Cody, WY 307-899-5381


The following resources provide additional planting information:

Dr. Ed Gilman is an expert to the experts after years of researching what causes trees to fail.  He offers workshops for arborists around the nation.  He teaches at the University of Florida and provides a wealth of free tree and shrub information at their horticulture extension website.