What to expect when planting trees.

Since Sioux Falls has been expanding immensely over the last decade and planting a lot of new trees. It is not surprising that a lot of the tree related issues that I end up looking at are new or recently planted trees. I have other blog topics relating how to plant and watering and the like, but I wanted to touch on expectations on the trees once they’re planted. I feel there is quite a bit of questions that new tree owners have.

Now before I get into this, I am not out to rag on the landscapers or other tree installers. They are trying their best to run a business and provide for their customers. There are certainly improvements needed in the tree industry. But the more consumer information I can provide so you can make the right decisions, is going to benefit the community as a whole.

Planting Success

When planting trees, whether you do it or a professional or whoever, you must reasonably expect roughly a 20% loss.

It may be that you plant a lot and 20-30% die. That is normal and just the way it is. Sure you may get lucky and not lose any or only a few, but expect losses.

It may be that you just plant one, and it dies. It likely not anyones fault, you just drew the short straw.

Remember, we are digging up and moving live plants. Large complex plants too! The unavoidable damage that happens to the root systems of the tree is stressful. Some trees are better than others. But in general a 20% loss rate on tree plantings within the first year is normal and should be expected.

I planted over 40 trees on my property this spring and have so far lost 3 and its only been 2 months. I didn’t do anything wrong, its just the way it is.

Most professionals will offer a one year warranty or something similar. Don’t be discouraged if a tree dies. Work with the contractor and try again.

Planting tree success and expectations in very disturbed sites should be very realistic.

New home locations are becoming more and more difficult of success when planting trees. This is due to very disturbed, sterile soils and destroyed soil structure.

Planting Costs

I just picked up trees the other day for $10 a piece on clearance at one of them big places where you can buy just about anything. Now do I expect a lot out of those trees? Not a chance. I bought 10 trees and if 1 or 2 survive, cool. But for the most part its a hope and a prayer for my shelter-belt of trees that is over-mature and in need or replanting.

I mentioned I planted over 40 trees this spring. I did not get those trees from said big store. They were specifically ordered them from a reputable nursery here in Sioux Falls and paid well for their quality and professional care. As mentioned above, I still lost a few, but overall the long term expectations for their survival is high.

In other words. You get what you pay for. Both from sellers and installers of trees. Planting trees is very laborious and takes some expertise in order for the long term success of the trees. There is more to it than just digging a hole. Having said that, do some homework on the companies and make sure their staff is qualified and knowledgeable about planting trees. Verify what they tell you by doing some online research. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation that I have run across meeting with clients that have sick trees.


New trees take work. I frequently hear how people want low or no maintenance landscapes or trees. There is no such thing. And the low maintenance landscapes (e.g. rock in place of mulch or special varieties that are less ‘messy’) can actually be harder to keep trees healthy and thriving. Additionally, plan on some time to water properly for the first two years, have the staking removed after the first season at the latest, and set up a specific pruning schedule for the first 20 years. The more care you can provide early on in the trees life, the better chances you have of having a generational long lived tree and one that will cost you less maintenance, money, and time in the long run.


Trees are very complex plants. I think we often forget that they are plants just like our garden and house plants. They need care and have limitations to their abilities. This topic wasn’t meant to be all doom and gloom for prospective tree planters, but there are some expectations that you need to be aware of when deciding how to improve and add to your landscape.