Special to the Mirror By Jane McKinley, McK Designs
As a member of the Cape Charles Tree Advisory Board (TAB), I am excited about the town’s interest in maintaining and enhancing its urban tree canopy. TAB is ready and willing to help the town protect, preserve and enhance its urban tree canopy and is available to advise residents who would like guidance on the selection or maintenance of trees in their yards. In this second article, I provide guidance for the selection of the best tree possible to meet your needs and provide pointers on how to plant it.
If you are interested in learning more about the mission of the Tree Advisory Board, would like advice on your trees, or would like to obtain landscape design services, you are welcome to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trees are the most permanent plants we grow. Many will live and enhance the landscape for 100 or more years if they are given a chance. Because of the permanency of trees and their importance in the landscape, care must be taken to select the best species for each situation.
Choosing a tree that will provide the greatest satisfaction in a given situation requires careful consideration. Most homeowners make the mistake of obtaining a particular tree – perhaps it brings childhood memories or were given a tree to mark a special occasion – and then trying to fit it into their yard. A better approach is to determine what role you want your tree to play in the landscape, identify the constraints of the area where you want to plant it, and determine how much time and energy you want to devote to it.
One of the first questions you should answer is “Why am I planting this tree?” Are you planting it to add beauty and value to your landscape (large trees located in a front yard can increase a home’s value by up to 15%)? Perhaps you want a tree that will provide privacy, screening your yard from an unsightly view or noise or to block close neighbors from having a direct line of sight into your private areas. You may have strong winds that blow across your property and would like to have a windbreak to allow smaller plantings and provide a more enjoyable outdoor experience (without your hat getting blown off!).
Do you want a tree for shade? Trees play an important role in reducing the solar radiation that produces heat. A shady section of yard created by a large overhead tree can be an inviting place on a hot day. Located on the west side of your home, a deciduous tree will shade the house in the summer, helping to save on cooling costs and energy consumption associated with greenhouse gas emissions. And, in the winter, this tree will allow the warming rays of the sun to shine inside, again reducing energy costs.
Next you should answer the question “What is the space like where I want to plant the tree?” The choice should be guided by existing conditions at the planting site. These include room for top and root growth, soil type, subsurface drainage (water should drain out of planting hole within 24 hours), and the kind of plants you will be able to grow under the tree. Be sure to know the maximum height and spread of a tree before selecting it. You don’t want branches to overhang the house or for it to outgrow the available space, both overhead and underground. Consider obstacles such as power lines, sidewalks and sewer pipes that could influence the tree’s growth or necessitate pruning. Make sure your planting spot is at least 3 feet from pavement or fencing, 15 feet from buildings or other trees and 25 feet from overhead electric wires if your tree will grow taller than 30 feet. When thinking about mature size considerations, I am reminded of a magnolia sapling given to me as a young adult. I planted it much too close to the sidewalk and, eventually, it had to be removed because it grew so large that it infringed on the walkway.
To keep maintenance low, avoid trees that are susceptible to storm damage, ones that are hosts to destructive insect and disease pests, and those that produce an over-abundance of objectionable fruit, suckers or “volunteers.” You may want to keep these factors in mind if you decide on a Bradford pear, a crabapple or a crepe myrtle, respectively.
To maximize climate, energy, and environmental benefits and for lower maintenance, consider selecting a native species. Natives are naturally adapted to the climate and provide beneficial habitat for wildlife. Another environmental consideration is to select a tree whose wood is dense and, consequently, holds more carbon. These trees are oftentimes long lived, making them even more effective at carbon sequestration. Wood density can vary tenfold among species, so, if this is something important to you, you will want to do some homework to find the right tree for your needs. Some trees with high density wood include oak, elm, and ash. If a native species doesn’t make sense for you, look around your area to identify the old trees that have done well in similar situations. Keep in mind, however, that many of these old, stately trees have taken decades to get to their mature size. Faster growing trees may be short lived and/or subject to costly problems.
And, finally, check with your town or homeowner’s association to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding planting and pruning. More details on this will be covered in a future article in this series.
So, you’ve done all your homework and decided on the perfect tree for your yard. Congratulations!
After getting it home from the nursery, it’s important to plant it as soon as possible. If you cannot, place it in a shady or sheltered spot. Cover the roots of bare-rooted plants with moist soil, sand, or peat moss. Keep the soil of balled-and-burlapped (B&B) or container plants moist until planting.
To plant the tree, dig a hole at least three to five times as wide as the diameter of the plant’s root spread or root ball. Do not dig too deep; once the plant is placed in the hole, the top of the roots or root ball should be level or slightly above level with the surface of the ground. Remove all tags, wires, or ropes from the stems or trunk which can strangle and kill the plant as it grows.
For container-grown plants, ease the pot off without disturbing the root ball and save it for recycling. Cut any circling roots, then place the root ball in the hole. Avoid pruning branches from a barerooted tree, as this may reduce the growth of new roots. For B&B trees, place the plant in the hole before removing the burlap covering. Then, to ensure root growth and access to nutrients and water, pull the burlap down off the root ball and leave it in the bottom of the hole. Do not attempt to pull the burlap from under the plant –– this could damage the root ball.
When replacing the soil in the hole, do not add organic matter. Instead, if the original soil, or backfill, contains too much rock or construction debris, replace it with local topsoil. When the hole is about three fourths refilled, straighten and level the tree, tamp the soil down carefully, and water heavily. Then fill the hole with backfill to its original level. Use excess soil to build a berm or ring 6 to 10 inches from the outside edge of the hole. Water heavily again to fill air pockets in the soil and water heavily once a week during periods of no rain.
Unless necessary, trees should not be staked. If the tree is top heavy or on an exposed site, staking will be necessary to anchor its root ball so the roots can develop rapidly into surrounding soil. To do this, drive three stakes into firm soil around the tree. Connect the stakes to the trunk with flexible straps designed to allow some movement. Remove the stakes and lines after one growing season, or they will inhibit trunk development.
Place mulch (pine needles, straw, bark chips, or slightly decomposed or shredded leaves) 2 or 3 inches deep around the plant to prevent water loss and keep lawn mowers and string trimmers from getting too close to the trunk. Avoid overly deep mulch or piling the mulch up against the stems or trunk; this promotes shallow roots, disease, and pest injury.
For more information on planting trees, go to the VA Cooperative Extension Publication, “Planting Trees,” and the video, “How to Plant a Tree.” You can also get good information from the Arbor Day Foundation.