a belief in tomorrow, an investment in our future, an act of love for future generations, honoring a loved one’s life and memory, celebrating our home and planet, providing habitat, a family tradition and whatever you want it to be. In honor of Earth and Arbor Days and in memory of my Dad, here are some important tips:
The first and one of the most important, if you have kids and a yard, you need to plant trees for climbing, swinging, sitting under and creating a magical world all their own. There is power in creative, outdoor play. Remember? We adults can forget how to be child-like and free, if for just 5 minutes a day!
Do your homework prior to going to the garden center or nursery
Remember SSSS (Solution you are solving for, the Spot where you will plant it, the amount of Sunlight it will receive and what type of Soil it will be planted in
Why plant a tree? What desire or goal are you solving for? Trees are more than pretty. They can:
reduce cooling/heating costs and provide much needed shade during the heat of our humid central Pennsylvania summers
provide privacy, screening or windbreak
provide habitat and food for wildlife. For instance, our native oaks host a whopping 557 caterpillar species that birds need to feed their young to survive and food for small mammals (Source: The Living Landscape by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy). See my blog post on native plant resources for local sources of native trees
enhance water quality, reduce erosion and stormwater runoff
provide aesthetics for us humans like pretty flowers, focal points, anchor and soften the corners of our homes or patios
improve air quality and sequester carbon, a very important ecosystem service and collective benefit for the health of our planet
Which spot do you want to plant it in?
Deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of your property near the house, patio or a/c unit can help reduce cooling costs in the summer.
The air temperature under a tree can be up to 20 degrees cooler in the summer – great for kids play areas, pets, family get togethers and quiet reflection
Evergreen trees planted in the direction of the prevailing winter winds, generally in the north to northwest here in central PA can reduce heating costs in the winter
Planting a mixture of species maximizes garden health and biodiversity over planting a row of all the same species
How much sunlight will it receive throughout the day? Full sun is at least 6 hours or more of direct sunlight, part sun/part shade is generally 3-6 hours of direct sunlight usually before mid-day, shade/full shade is less than 3 hours of direct sunlight per day, usually morning sun.
What is the soil like where you want to plant the tree? Is it heavy clay, near a downspout and is subject to wet/dry cycles throughout the year or fast draining? These are all considerations to help narrow down your choices. It’s best to work with the native soil you have with few amendments, unless it is compacted or very heavy clay.
IMPORTANT TIPS FOR PURCHASING AND PLANTING TREES:
Check the overall health of the tree; roots, trunk, leaves, canopy. Here's a great resource for specific items to search for from the International Society for Arboriculture: https://www.treesaregood.org/treeowner/choosingtherighttree
FIND THE FLARE! This is one of the most important tips when purchasing and planting trees. Most trees’ root flares becomes covered with additional soil during production, shipment, etc. Where the trunk meets the roots is the FLARE and this must be at ground level or slightly above at planting time. The number one cause of tree failure and death is a tree planted too deeply. It is not uncommon for the flare to be buried a few inches down into the pot or root ball. After purchasing and prior to digging the hole, find the flare by gently pulling away the excess soil until you find where the trunk meets the roots. Use that depth of the root ball to dig only as deep as the root ball but at least twice as wide as the root ball, scarifying the sides of the hole with a shovel perpendicular to the ground.
If the tree looks too big for the pot or appears root bound, keep looking. There are nursery industry standards, demand quality products from local suppliers so we all do better
When purchasing ball and burlap trees, do not purchase a tree with a broken root ball. If the root ball breaks, the tree can go into shock and die. Handle the root ball with care when purchasing, transporting and planting
When purchasing from a local nursery/garden center, ask questions, most of the folks that work at our favorite nurseries want you to succeed
Check out these planting instructions from the International Society of Arboriculture: https://www.treesaregood.org/portals/0/docs/treecare/New_TreePlanting.pdf
Water and watch! Tree watering bags or buckets with small holes in the bottom work great for slow, deep watering vs. quick spurts of the hose every day. If the tree is close to a water source, consider running the hose on a slow trickle on the root ball and set a timer for about 30-45 minutes and check the root zone to make sure it is thoroughly moist. In general, slow, deep watering, less often, develops stronger, more drought tolerant root systems. Slow steady rain events are great, but brief downpours may not be enough to establish your tree so watch the weather. Also, wind and temperatures over 90 degrees can dry out new plants very quickly
Apply only 2-3” of organic mulch such as leaf compost or shredded leaves around the root zone of the tree after planting and keep the mulch at least 1-2” away from trunk
Only stake trees loosely, if in high wind areas, for 6 months to one year, then remove the stakes. That sway helps to build a stronger root system like when we lift weights
One last important tip; NEVER WORK IN WET SOIL, IT COMPACTS THE SOIL AND REMOVES THE OXYGEN FROM THE SOIL
Happy tree planting and let’s make Earth Day every day!