Ornamental tree planting and establishment in cities is a great challenge because urban soil physical properties are unfavourable to the development of root systems. Our objectives were to measure (i) the effects of organic matter on soil physical properties and tree development, and (ii) the effects of ensuing root development on soil physical properties. Using twenty-four 600-L planted or bare soil containers, we monitored physical properties such as dry bulk density, aggregate stability and near-saturated hydraulic conductivity of our reconstituted soils over a 5.5-year period. A 28-cm thick top layer of sandy loam amended with 40% (v/v) sphagnum peat or organic composts was laid on top of a 28-cm thick layer of sandy loam. Bare-root Ostrya carpinifolia trees were planted in half of the 24 containers, and we monitored shoot development and root biomass and distribution. After 5.5 years, trunk diameter had increased from 59 mm for the control soil to 66 mm for soil mixed with green waste compost, and 74 mm for soil mixed with co-compost of sewage sludge and wood chips. After 4.5 years, trunk diameter was strongly correlated with the total number of axes (r = 0.94) and fine root length density (r = 0.98), and was confirmed as a good indicator of tree development. Fine root development increased stable aggregate formation in all treatments as compared to bare soil. After 4.5 years after planting, the tree root system induced by a high organic matter input had significantly improved near-saturated hydraulic conductivity and was fit to support fertile urban soils.