Planting a tree can be fun but it should be done correctly to ensure years of happiness. (Submitted photo/Linda Corwine McIntosh)

Today is Arbor Day! I wonder how many of you are going to plant a tree in celebration of the day? If so, giving your tree a good start by planting it correctly can give you a tree that will probably outlive us all.

And isn’t that kind of cool? We can plant a tree that generations to come can enjoy.

One of my mom’s favorite stories was from when I was a Girl Scout. I had to plant a tree to get my badge, so my mom gave me a shovel and a little spruce to plant.

She started it for me, and said she would be back in a while to see how I was doing.

So I dug and dug and dug.

It was hard, tiring work for a kid, but when I thought the hole was deep and wide enough I called for my mom to come and see if my hole was right.

But here’s the best part. I jumped into the hole and scrunched down into it as far as I could.

When she came out of the house and saw the top half of me sticking out of the hole, the expression of horror and shock on her face was beyond priceless, as I asked her, “Is this deep enough?”

I wanted to share this story with you to emphasize a point. Don’t plant your tree too deep! I say this because it’s a very common mistake that I often see.

A shallow, wide planting hole is the key to success. Dig no deeper than the depth of the root-ball of the tree and add one part organic material, such as compost, to two parts soil to backfill the hole.

Adding more “goodies” than this to your soil will make the new hole so desirable that the roots will continue to grow in the circle of the planting hole and not expand outward.

This brings me to another problem that I often come across. Roots that are wrapped around and around instead of going outward like a healthy root system should.

Often, roots will wrap around the inside of the pot that it grew in at the nursery. As the tree grows, these roots will wrap around the trunk of the tree and can eventually strangle the tree.

Making sure the roots are loosened and not wrapped in the shape of the pot before planting can prevent this. Also, remove some of the soil from the top of the root ball if it has been planted deep in the pot. The roots should be covered by an inch or two of soil, not buried.

After the tree is planted water it well by using a slow stream of water. Let the water settle the soil.

Don’t stomp the soil with your feet. The amount of water to apply to a new tree will depend on the soil conditions and temperatures.

Dig a small handful of soil with a trowel at the edge of the planting hole. If the soil feels moist and holds together when squeezed, it doesn’t need water.

Dry soil should be watered. Soil moistures should be checked once or twice a week if the moisture content is in question.

Don’t forget to check the soil moisture on a monthly basis throughout the winter. If the winter is dry, you will need to water your new tree!

Adding two to four inches of mulch over the root area will reduce the frequency of watering. Just be sure to keep wood chips from coming in direct contact with the trunk of the tree.

It’s also a good idea to keep turf away from the trunk. This will reduce competition of tree and grass roots as well as help you to avoid damage caused by hitting the trunk with the mower or a string trimmer.

If there appears to be some danger of the tree falling or leaning, the tree could be staked for support (Conifer trees usually require staking).

When staking, use a wide fabric strap such as that found on backpacks to tie the tree. Don’t use wire run through a garden hose or black inner tubing as it can cause severe damage to the tree.

The tree should be allowed to sway a bit so it will become stronger as it ages, so don’t guy the tree too tightly.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions before you buy your tree. Make sure the mature tree will fit into your location. Look up to see if there are overhead wires above the planting site that will interfere with the branches. Knowing the tree’s water needs is also wise.

I also strongly encourage planting a variety of trees. A monoculture of one species can lead to insect and disease problems. And besides, a variety of trees just looks better.

So let me go out on a limb here and assume you’re thinking of planting a tree, but wondering what the big deal about Arbor Day is.

Have you ever looked down on Montrose from an airplane or from a higher location, like Sunset Mesa and noted all of the trees? It’s really nice to see so many trees around town.

If you look at pictures of Montrose in the 1800s, you’re sure to notice the absence of trees. I think it looks hot, desolate and uninviting. It makes me glad that J. Steerling Morton came up with the idea of Arbor Day.

This was way back in 1854 when he moved to a settlement on the west bank of the Missouri River, near present day Nebraska City. He said there is “too much activity in cutting down and too little in planting of trees.”

By 1872, Morton proposed to the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture that a day be set aside for planting trees.

This was finally approved two years later when the governor of Nebraska proclaimed March 12, 1874 as the first Arbor Day.

However, it wasn’t observed until April 10 because there weren’t enough trees available to plant on the set day. It wasn’t until April 22, 1885 that Arbor Day finally became an annual official holiday.

Other states gradually began to establish their own Arbor Day, but it wasn’t officially proclaimed a national holiday until April 24, 1970 when President Richard Nixon made the proclamation.

Arbor Day is now celebrated throughout the world. In The United States Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. I think it’s interesting that the date for Arbor Day planting depends on the best tree planting weather.

In Jordan, Arbor Day is celebrated on Jan. 15. South Africa celebrates Arbor Week Sept. 1–7. In Western Samoa, Arbor Day is the first Friday in November.

With that said, even if you’re not planting a tree, Arbor Day is a great time to take a stroll through your yard and evaluate the health of your trees. Check for insects, broken branches or trunk damage. Check the irrigation to the trees.

If you planted new trees within the past few years, the irrigation should be changed as the tree matures. Move the drips away from the trunk of tree.

The drips should be placed at the outside of the drip zone. More drips may need to be added to accommodate the growth. You should also remove the ties and guys from trees that have been planted for two years or more if the tree has become established.

With this said, I hope you have a fun Arbor Day. And remember — any day that you plant a tree is a day to celebrate. You and future generations will be glad you did!

Linda Corwine McIntosh is an ISA certified arborist, licensed pesticide applicator and advanced master gardener.

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