Plant a Tree
County, Penna. Master Gardener
On a recent trip to
Seattle my husband and I flew over parts of Montana
where the wild fires were visible from the plane. It was
easier to understand the scale of the destruction when
viewed from 23,000 feet than when seen on TV. It started
me thinking about the value of what was being lost,
especially the trees. Although fire can be essential in
the process of revitalization, it takes a long time for
a forest to recover. It made me realize how much I value
the trees in my own yard.
As I watch the aging
process in my trees, I am busy planning the placement of
new young trees that in the years to come will continue
to provide all the benefits I now enjoy in my mature
trees. They help to settle out, and hold, dust and
smoke. Trees absorb carbon dioxide produced from motor
vehicles and, in return, produce oxygen, helping to
reduce both the greenhouse effect and global warming.
They provide food and cover for wildlife, which, for me,
is a prime consideration in my choice of which trees to
plant. Trees, and the shade they produce, help to keep
my home and yard cooler in the summer and warmer in the
winter when they act as windbreaks. By providing beauty
and character, landscaping with trees also enhances the
value of our property.
If you would like to
add trees, or even a single tree, to your landscape, be
sure to do your homework. There are trees to suit every
situation and, by assessing your needs realistically,
you can be sure that the tree you invest your money in
will return that investment a thousand times over.
First look at the
physical aspect of where you want to plant. Choose a
tree that, when mature, will be a suitable size for your
site. Also, assess things like available sunlight, wind,
drainage and soil pH. (You did do a soil test, right?)
Do you want an evergreen or a deciduous tree? Do you
want spring or summer flowers? Ornamental bark? Berries?
Good fall color? Dense shade or filtered shade? A column
shape, weeping or rounded form? Small (10-25 ft),
medium(25-40 ft.), or large (over 40 ft.)?
There are many trees
that offer many combinations of the above so it will be
helpful to know what you want before shopping. An
experienced nurseryman or landscape/garden designer will
be able to help you narrow your choices down, and
ultimately buy a tree that is healthy and suited to your
needs. And remember, bigger is not always better. The
bigger the tree, the longer it will take to become
established and put on growth. You may be better off
with something smaller that will grow quickly and reach
the same height as a larger tree might in the same
amount of growing time.
The best time to plant
your new tree is during the dormant season - early
spring before bud break or in the fall after leaf drop.
But trees that have been properly cared for in the
nursery or garden center can be planted any time during
the growing season. Just know that your tree is going to
be more stressed if your plant it in July and youíll
probably have to do some additional watering as well.
And by all means, do
your new tree a huge favor by planting it correctly.
Many people believe that you need to dig a deep hole
when planting a tree. The exact opposite is true. Your
hole needs to be much wider than deep by at least three
to five times the diameter of the root ball. It needs to
be only as deep as the root ball or just 1-2 inches
less. It is essential that the root flare (area where
the trunk ends and the roots begin) be at or slightly
above the existing soil line. Make sure the root flare
is visible. The bottom of the hole should be firm so
that the tree doesnít sink after planting.
Remove or cut away
twine, burlap (especially the plastic type) and wire
baskets. Loosen the roots to enhance their growth and
prevent girdling. Finer root systems can be loosened
with your hands. Heavier roots may need to be cut with
pruning shears. Next position the tree in the hole,
making sure that it is straight, and spread out the
roots. Backfill the hole with the soil you took out. You
donít need to put in any additives or amendments. Firm
the soil gently. Water the tree deeply to begin with,
then once a week if it hasnít rained and more if itís
hot. A good way to judge is when the soil below the
mulch is dry, then itís time to water.
Your final step is to
mulch. Add two to four inches around the base of the
tree, but not against the trunk. Make a doughnut, not a
mound. Mounding mulch around the trunk and covering the
root flare inhibits gas exchange and can cause disease
and decay of the living bark at the base of the tree.
This is one of the biggest mistakes I see in newly
planted trees. And I see it everywhere, especially in
parking lots around stores and malls. Because of the way
these public trees are mulched, many people think that
that is how it should be done.
other gardening articles by Audrey Hillman