Tree Planting the Right Way
Whether you’re participating in a community tree-planting initiative, or just planting a tree in your own backyard, you’ll have better results if you follow these tips:
Right tree, right place. What kind of planting spaces are we talking about? Is the situation restricted by overhead utilities or is the root space constrained in size? Planting a tree that will grow and mature in a planting space means selecting a species that will reach the appropriate size for the constraints of the planting space.
- Tree selection. Native, non-invasive tree species are always best. Check your surroundings for species that are success stories. There should a number of tree species that grow well in your community if you look for them.
- Plant it right. Successful tree plantings are not an accident. Most balled-and-burlap (B&B) nursery stock is planted too deep. The root collar of a tree should be at or just above the final grade after a tree is planted. Seek out a local master gardener, county extension agent, or arborist for help.
- Don’t forget the mulch. Proper mulching not only helps maintain soil moisture and retards weed growth, it keeps weed-eaters and lawnmowers away from the trunk of the tree. Excessive mulching that is shaped like a cone around a tree stem is bad for the tree. All you need is a 2-4” depth of mulch spread a couple of feet in radius around the tree, with none touching the stem.
- Plan ahead. Unfortunately, most tree-planting initiatives raise money and recruit volunteers to plant trees and then walk away and assume the job is done. In reality, the project has just begun. Unless there’s a plan to water and then care for the trees for the next number of years, your project is doomed to fail. Ask the folks in charge to develop a maintenance plan and raise money and recruit volunteers for that, too.
- Prune correctly. The proper pruning of trees is critical over the first few years of their growth and development. Correctly pruning small limbs on a tree every couple of years insures good tree development, minimizes the chance of insect and disease problems, and eliminates the need for expensive corrective pruning when the tree matures.
- Protect the roots. Tree roots and good soil are key to a successful tree planting. Most urban soil is really unsuitable for trees and needs to be amended with organic matter. While the leaves conduct the magic of photosynthesis, it’s the roots supplying water and minerals that keep the tree growing. Providing and protecting a good environment for tree roots is critical and usually forgotten.
- Measure success. Is there a plan in place to annually assess the tree planting for survival and growth, maintenance needs such as mulching and pruning, and replacing trees that have died? There should be and the results of the annual survey should be shared with volunteers, NGOs, city officials, etc. It’s an important by-product of any urban tree planting initiative.
- Watch for pests. There are many exotic and invasive pests that initiate and spread from cities into rural forests. Whether it’s Asian Long-horned Beetle, Emerald Ash Borer, or Ailanthus/Tree-of-Heaven, you need to be aware and report a suspected location to city officials immediately.
- Consult the experts. A good place to look for current, scientifically based information on city trees: The International Society of Arboriculture Web site: TreesAreGood.com.
This month's "Practical Wisdom"—Burney Fischer, SPEA professor and resident forester.