The old saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago”. Just think, a tree planted 20 years ago would be a wonderful, mature tree today! But if you didn’t plant then, there’s no better time than the present, especially since Earth Day and Arbor Day are being celebrated this Saturday. So here are a few tips to get your tree off to a good start.
Tip 1 - Choose carefully: Hot, dry areas will require different species of trees than those planted in cool, moist, shady areas. Ask questions about the needs of the tree before you purchase it. Think about the reason that you’re planting the tree. Are you looking for privacy, a windbreak, shade, fruit, or a bird habitat? Do you want a tree that is slow growing, or one that will grow quickly? Keep in mind, a tree that grows slowly will have fewer insect and disease problems, have stronger wood, and generally have a much longer life span. Think about the mature size of the tree. Will it fit into its new home once it reaches its mature height? Look up to see if there are wires above the site before making such decisions. All of these things should influence your decision.
Tip 2 - Dig wisely: Before digging, you may need to contact your utility company to mark the location of any underground lines.
Tip 3 - Plant properly: Planting the tree too deeply, or leaving wire and strings around the tree are the leading causes of death in trees. Dig a wide hole in the shape of a bowl, about three times the diameter of the root ball. Plant the tree only as deep as the root ball. The top of the top roots should be planted just below the soil line. You may need to remove some of soil from the top of the root ball. If the roots are “pot bound” or wrapped around, loosen them with your fingers if possible. Straighten the tree in the hole. Add one part organic material, such as compost, to two parts soil and back fill the hole. Adding more “goodies” than this to your soil will make the new home so desirable that the roots will continue to grow in the circle of the planting hole and never expand outward.
Tip 4 - Water well: After planting the tree, water it well using a slow stream of water or a bubbler. Let the water settle the soil. Don’t tramp the soil with your feet. Regular watering will depend on the soil conditions and temperatures. Water the tree to keep it moist but avoiding prolonged saturation. With that said, you don’t want to allow the soil to become dry, so check the soil moisture once or twice a week.
Tip 5 - Mulch: Adding mulch will reduce the frequency of needed watering. In nature, a forest provides its own mulch with several inches of leaves or pine needles. We can recreate this environment by mulching with 2 to 4 inches of bark chips. Just be sure to keep the mulch 1-2 inches away from the trunk of the tree.
Tip 6 - If there appears to be some danger of the tree falling or leaning, the tree can be staked for support. Allowing a tree to learn to bend when it is young will produce a stronger tree, however, if staking is necessary, use a wide fabric strap to tie the tree. The use of wire, narrow straps, or black tubing can be damaging to the tree. All guides and stakes should be left in place no longer than two years!
Tip 7 - Pruning: Only dead wood, and injured, or diseased branches should be removed from a newly transplanted tree.
Tip 8 - Wrap trees in winter: Trees with dark colored bark should be wrapped with a paper tree wrap for the first two to three seasons, or until sufficient bark has formed on the trunk. Tree wrap should be applied to the tree around Halloween and removed in the spring. This is done to protect the tree from sunburn from our intense winter sun.
The City of Montrose is offering a tree planting demonstration at Buckley Park Saturday at 10 a.m. Montrose master gardeners will be available to answer any tree planting questions that you might have.
With this said, don’t limit yourself to planting a tree only on Arbor Day or Earth Day. Any day that you plant a tree is a day to celebrate. You, and future generations will be glad you did.
Linda Corwine McIntosh, ISA arborist, is a licensed commercial pesticide applicator, advanced master gardener.