I planted my first tree (an eastern redbud) four days ago. I just learned that the tree is supposed to be dug three times the width of the container it came in. Before it really starts to grow, can I just simply aerate around it with a spading fork; or should I replant it to make sure the hole is wide enough?

  • Welcome to the site, and congratulations on your new redbud :)
    – MackM
    Apr 17 at 12:16
  • If it helps, "3 times the width" is an exaggeration. Spading is the simplest, but you have weeks to decide what to do. Apr 17 at 13:17
  • @YosefBaskin A pkanting hole two to three times the width and the exact depth of the root ball are the standard planting instructions. See the US Arbor Day Foundation's instructions (there are many other sites as well, but that one is always a good reference).
    – Jurp
    Apr 17 at 13:35
  • Don't worry too much about it - if you want, you can take the tree out again (carefully), since it hasn't had time to grow out into the soil, and dig the hole larger. If you have a nice, workable soil (ie not like clay), you may not need to do anything.
    – j4nd3r53n
    Apr 17 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


It depends a bit on the kind of soil you have.

In a rather compact and dense environment, the wide hole is important because otherwise the tree can find itself sitting in what’s essentially a “pot” again and that can (and will, speaking from experience) stunt its growth. A wide hole gives the tree a good head start for root development and potentially breaking through the borders. So if you struggled to dig the original hole and really had to work through the ground, it’s probably a good idea to replant, but please be careful with the existing roots and take the tree out very carefully and gently, but do it as soon as possible. For these cases, it’s also best to not just refill the hole with the original soil, but to include some more structural organic material like compost or bagged planting soil.

If however you are blessed with a more loose soil structure, that shouldn’t be an issue and I would rather leave the tree alone.

Aerating the soil is not going to do much in the former scenario (because by the time the roots will extend out, the soil will likely have compacted again) and not necessary in the latter.

  • 1
    Stephie, the Arbor Day Foundation (among other organizations) disagrees with you about adding soil amendments to the potting hole - that practice is no longer current. The gardener should always backfill with the native soil only. See here for containerized planting instructions: arborday.org/trees/planting/containerized.cfm The instructions for bareroot are almost identical. I find it interesting that in the 18 years I've been professionally in the trade that tree planting has evolved so much - what I used to tell people in 2007 is not correct today.
    – Jurp
    Apr 17 at 13:33
  • @Jurp I was once at a birthday party for a civil engineering professor, 84 years old and still lecturing and researching. When asked what his ambitions for the future were, he said, — "I wish I had more time to learn about concrete. There's so much I still don't know." – Suffice to say the guy was probably the one professor who knew more about concrete than the remainder of the faculty members put together. Apr 17 at 14:23

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