All About Trees
Trees have much to do with one’s first impression of a home. A tree well-suited to the architecture, climate and soil can enhance curb appeal. A poor choice can stick out like a sore thumb.
In addition to aesthetics, a tree can provide precious shade for backyard entertaining. The benefits of shade from a tree are not limited to the exterior. A strategically planted tree can shield the home from the fierce heat generated by the sun, sometimes dropping the interior temperature 10 to 20 degrees. Thus, refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners aren’t required to work nearly as hard. An added bonus is less fading of window coverings, flooring and furnishings because of their reduced exposure to solar ultra-violet rays.
What and where you should plant depends on three elements: design, climate and soil conditions.
The design relates to how you envision the tree working in the grand scheme of things. What are the primary reasons for planting the tree? Is it for decoration, shade, a tree swing or a combination. Does the tree need to be a fast grower? What size and shape do you want?
A nursery representative who is familiar with climate, soil conditions and the characteristics of various trees can be of great help. If the scope of work is more complex, your best bet might be a landscape architect.
If you live in a part of the country where weather conditions are extreme, you’ll want to select a tree that can withstand either great heat or cold. Sometimes it’s possible to find a variety that will withstand both.
Aside from the climate, quality of the soil has the greatest impact on the success or failure of a tree to flourish.
Soil composed primarily of clay can hold too much water and not drain properly. This water-logged effect can cut off oxygen to the roots and drown the tree. On the other hand, sandy soil can drain too rapidly starving the roots of much-needed water.
While you can’t change the climate, there are steps that can be taken to improve the condition of the soil. Remove excess soil surrounding the location where the tree is to be planted and replace it with organic soil conditioner. This will give the root-ball of the tree room to expand.
The availability of water is another factor to be considered. If water is not plentiful where you live, consider a tree that requires little or is drought-tolerant. A bed of mulch applied to the soil’s surface surrounding the tree will help keep it moist and reduce the need for frequent watering. Trees are typically sold by size. The size of the container, the size of the trunk or the height of the tree. Needless to say, there is a direct relationship between the size of the tree and its cost.
Most trees come ready to plant in one of three ways: balled and burlapped, bare root or container-grown. Balled-and-burlapped trees were dug from the ground with their roots left encased in a earthen ball. The ball is held together with burlap and twine. The burlap can remain on the root ball and be planted with the tree because it will soon rot. However, it is best to remove the uppermost portion of twine and burlap to allow the root ball nourishment and room for root growth.
Container-grown plants are seedlings or saplings in containers. Most containers are metal or plastic and should be removed before planting. Failure to remove the container can cause the tree to become root-bound and hasten the tree’s demise.
Container-grown trees can become root-bound if they remain in the container too long. Inspect the root system once the container has been removed. If there are large circling roots or you have a difficult time straightening the roots, the root ball should be thinned and the soil loosened before planting.
Bare-root trees are dug in late fall or early spring when dormant. They remain in that state (without soil) until you plant them. Bare-root trees cost less, but are the most susceptible to injury due to root exposure. The roots must be kept moist and the tree planted promptly in the spring.
When planting, dig a hole that is two feet wider and six inches deeper than the root ball. This will allow for soil amendments and growth. If the soil at the perimeter of the hole is dense and hard, break it up with a shovel. Add amended soil to the bottom of the hole so that the ball sits slightly higher than the previous planting depth. A slow-release starter fertilizer can be mixed in with the soil or starter pellets can be placed in the hole to offer nourishment during the critical transition period.
With the tree in place, fill the hole three quarters full with amended soil and tamp it with the butt end of a four-by-four post. If the tree is balled and burlapped, now is the time to cut the twine and remove the uppermost section of burlap. The rest can be left in the hole to rot.
Fill the hole with water to further compact the soil. When the water drains out, finish filling the hole with soil. Give the tree one final watering, this time with a shock-preventive solution that contains vitamin B-1.
You can improve water retention by constructing a small dam around the entire circumference of the tree about two feet out from the trunk. This will create a basin that can be filled with water for periodic deep watering.
Small trees with thin trunks should be staked until they can withstand damage from wind.
Finally, add a thin layer of mulch at the base of the tree to help retain moisture and discourage weeds. Water frequently the first few weeks.