Contributing Writer: Rebecca Johnson, Certified Arborist at Arborholic, LLC

All photos courtesy Rebecca Johnson

We all recognize that trees are a big part of the solution to global climate change. Organizations around the globe are launching ambitious and aggressive tree planting campaigns. To meet these goals, they are putting out bids for contractors to plant trees. Too often, though, they go back into the archive and dust off their old planting specifications, and don’t examine whether these guidelines match current best management practices.

Planting specifications are the detailed plans and procedures provided to potential contractors to tell them how trees should be planted. Good planting specifications can ensure that there are no misunderstandings between the organization and the contracted company. They provide a mechanism for holding contractors accountable for planting trees properly.

Properly planted trees, like this bur oak shown newly planted and eight years later, become assets that provide shade to buildings and roads, saving energy and helping to curb the heat island effect

While each country has its own standards, the best management practices published by the International Society of Arboriculture have been developed using the best research available from around the world. Unfortunately, too often people may be unaware of their existence and haven’t read them. They’re using outdated information, so newly planted trees do not thrive.

Planting trees incorrectly can lead to the death of the trees, wasting money and time.

Planting specifications should include such details as time of planting, type of planting stock, species selection, storage and handling of the new tree, depth of planting, how to stake (if necessary), mulching and pruning. They also need to show how each tree will be cared for during the establishment period — whether by the contractor or by the organization — as well as how the work will be inspected and the remedies for failure.

Along with planting specifications are the “planting details” — the illustration of your specifications. These do not take the place of writing good specifications but can move them from “good to great.” You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create good planting details, the Urban Tree Foundation has provided open-source examples available for use by anyone at

Updating your planting specifications AND enforcing them can help ensure that you’re not wasting the money you spend on tree planting campaigns.

Circling roots will fail to grow out into the native soil, resulting in a tree that is not stable.