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How to plant a tree

Published on September 3rd 2021
A close up of a hand holding a glove
We are celebrating Arbor Week in South Africa - a perfect opportunity to plant a tree. Trees give so much to humanity, from food to shelter, but the most important, together with other green plants, is the photosynthetic proses whereby carbon dioxide is captured and oxygen is reintroduced in the air. Thus, they recycle air.
African Flame Tree leaves
The trees for 2020 is Cape ash (Ekebergia capensis) and the Baobab (Adansonia digitata).
If you don’t know your trees so well, I would suggest the following trees that can be planted almost throughout the country and would thus be able to adapt to most climates. This includes the Wild olive (Olea europaea subsp. africana), Sweet thorn (Vachellia karroo), Buffalo thorn (Ziziphus mucronata), White stinkwood (Celtis africana), Karee (Searsia lancea), and False Olive (Buddleja saligna).

Wild Olive

Olea europaea ssp. africana

A close up of a green Vachellia anegadensis plant


Vachellia anegadensis

Ziziphus mucronata

Buffalo thorn (Eng.)

Ziziphus mucronata

Celtis africana

White Stinkwood

Celtis africana

Searsia lancea, Rhus lancea


Searsia lancea

A close up of some white flowers on a Buddleia Buddleja saligna

False Olive

Buddleja saligna

The trees mentioned above are all frost-tolerant.

What do I need to know when planting a tree?

  • Firstly, plant in harmony with your environment - choose trees that are suitable for your climate. If you’re located in a Fynbos, bushveld, highveld region etc., plant locally indigenous tree species.
Some trees are more adaptable than others. Sweet thorn (Vachellia karroo) is by far the most well-known and wide-spread tree in our country and should have been our national tree. The Sweet thorn is an easy and fast grower and, like most of our thorn trees, it has symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria nodules on its roots.
  • Before planting, consider the size of the tree at maturity and keep buildings and utility lines in mind. Figs (Ficus sp.), especially Ficus burkei has a history of damage to water supply networks and sewer pipes. It is a very beautiful tree but it prefers a larger growing environment.
*Tip: Do not plant trees within at least 3-4 metres of your home.
  • Decide whether you would prefer an evergreen or deciduous tree.
  • Establishing a tree is the most important part of tree-planting, and if you can care for the tree in the first two to three years, it will be largely self-sufficient. The larger the tree, the better.
trees in bags
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Steps to planting a tree

  1. Make a hole twice the size of the container/rootball.
  2. Mix a wheelbarrow of compost with the soil dug from the hole.
  3. Add a handful of bonemeal (rich in phosphate) to the hole.
  4. Mix the composted soil back into the hole.
  5. Cut open the bag. Ensure that the soil around the rootball stays compact around the roots.
  6. Plant the tree at the same soil level in the new position as it was in the bag, and refrain from covering the trunk with soil as this may lead to rot. Trees can also suffer from oxygen shortage if it is planted too deep.
  7. Compress the soil as you backfill.
  8. Build a watering basin around the tree to ensure that the water concentrates around the roots and does not runoff.
  9. After planting the tree, water it well and add a thin layer of fertiliser as groundcover around the trunk.
  10. Stake the tree for extra support.
Initially, if rainwater is not sufficient, water twice a week.
*Tip: To prevent the tree trunk from sun-damage, cover the trunk with a white cloth or white paint - this reflects the sun and keeps the trunk cool.

Happy planting!

Browse this collection below for some inspiration on indigenous trees to select for planting in your garden:

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