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Trees add beauty and so much more.
Trees in your backyard can be home to
many different types of wildlife. Trees can also reduce your heating
and cooling costs, help clean the air, add beauty and color, provide
shelter from the wind and the sun, and add value to your
Choosing a tree should be a well
thought-out decision. Tree planting can be a significant investment
in money and time. Proper selection can provide you with years of
enjoyment as well as significantly increase the value of your
property. An inappropriate tree for your property can be a constant
maintenance problem or even a hazard. Before you buy, take advantage
of the abundant references on gardening at local libraries,
universities, arboretums, parks where trees are identified, native
plant and gardening clubs, and nurseries. Some questions to consider
in selecting a tree include:
1. What purpose will this tree serve?
Trees can serve numerous landscape functions including
beautification, screening of sights and sounds, shade and energy
conservation, and wildlife habitat.
2. Is the species appropriate for your
area? Reliable nurseries will not sell plant material that is not
suitable for your area. However, some mass marketers have trees and
shrubs that are not winter hardy in the area sold. Even if a tree is
hardy, it may not flower consistently from year to year at the
limits of its useful range due to late spring freezes. If you are
buying a tree for the spring flowers and fall fruits, this may be a
consideration. In warmer climates, there may not be a long enough
period of cool temperatures for some species, such as apples, to
develop flowers. Apples and other species undergo vernalization--a
period of near-freezing temperatures that cause changes in the
plant, resulting in the production of flowers.
Be aware of microclimates. Microclimates
are very localized areas where weather conditions may vary from the
norm. A very sheltered yard may support vegetation not normally
adapted to the region. On the other hand, a north-facing slope may
be significantly cooler or windier than surrounding areas and
survival of normally adapted plants may be limited.
Select trees native to your area. They
will be more tolerant of local weather and soil conditions, enhance
natural biodiversity in your neighborhood, and be more beneficial to
wildlife than many non-native trees. Avoid exotic trees that can
invade other areas, crowd out native plants, and harm natural
3. How big will it get? When planting a
small tree, it is often difficult to imagine that in 20 years it
could be shading your entire yard. Unfortunately, many trees are
planted and later removed when the tree grows beyond the dimensions
of the property.
4. What is the average life expectancy of
the tree? Some trees can live for hundreds of years. Others are
considered "short-lived" and may live for only 20 or 30 years. Many
short-lived trees tend to be smaller ornamental species. Short-lived
species should not necessarily be ruled out when considering
plantings. They may have other desirable characteristics, such as
size, shape, tolerance of shade, or fruit, that would be useful in
the landscape. These species may also fill a void in a young
landscape, and can be removed as other larger, longer-lived species
5. Does it have any particular ornamental
value such as leaf color or flowers and fruits? Some species provide
beautiful displays of color for short periods in the spring or fall.
Other species may have foliage that is reddish or variegated and can
add color in your landscaping year round.
Trees bearing fruits or nuts can provide
an excellent source of food for many species of wildlife. However,
some people consider some fruit and nut bearing trees to be "dirty."
6. Does it have any particular insect,
disease, or other problem that may reduce its usefulness? Certain
insects and diseases can be serious problems on some desirable
species in some regions. Depending on the pest, control of the
problem may be difficult and the pest may significantly reduce the
attractiveness, if not the life expectancy, of the plant. Other
species such as the silver maple (Acer saccharium) are known to have
weak wood that is susceptible to damage in ice storms or heavy
7. How common is this species in your
neighborhood or town? Some species are over-planted. Increasing the
natural diversity will provide habitat for wildlife and help limit
the opportunity for a single pest to destroy all plantings. An
excellent example of this was the American elm (Ulmus americana).
This lovely tree was widely planted throughout the United States.
With the introduction of Dutch elm disease, thousands of communities
lost all their street trees in only a few years.
8. Is the tree evergreen or deciduous?
Evergreen trees will provide cover and shade year round. They may
also be more effective as a barrier for wind and noise. Deciduous
trees will give you summer shade but allow the winter sun to shine
in. This may be a consideration for where to place the tree in your
Proper placement of trees is critical for
your enjoyment and their long-term survival. Check with local
authorities about regulations pertaining to placement of trees. Some
communities have ordinances restricting placement of trees within a
specified distance of a street, sidewalk, streetlight, or other
Before planting your tree, consider the
tree's ultimate size. When the tree nears maturity, will it be too
near your house or other structures? Be considerate of your
neighbors. An evergreen tree planted on your north side may block
the winter sun from your next door neighbor. Will it provide too
much shade for your vegetable and flower gardens? Most vegetables
and many flowers require considerable amounts of sun. If you intend
to grow these plants, consider how the placement of trees will
affect these gardens. Will it obstruct driveways or sidewalks? Will
it cause problems for buried or overhead utilities?
A properly planted and maintained tree
will grow faster and live longer than one that is incorrectly
planted. Trees can be planted almost any time of the year as long as
the ground is not frozen. Late summer or early fall is the optimum
time to plant trees in many areas. This gives the tree a chance to
establish new roots before winter arrives and the ground freezes.
When spring arrives, the tree is ready to grow. The second choice
for planting is late winter or early spring. Planting in hot summer
weather should be avoided. Planting in frozen soil during the winter
is difficult and tough on tree roots. When the tree is dormant and
the ground is frozen, there is no opportunity for the growth of new
Trees are purchased as container grown,
balled and burlapped (B&B), and bare root. Generally, container
grown are the easiest to plant and successfully establish in any
season, including summer. With container grown stock, the plant has
been growing in a container for a period of time. When planting
container grown plants, little damage is done to the roots as the
plant is transferred to the soil. Container grown trees range in
size from very small plants in gallon pots up to large trees in huge
pots. B&B plants frequently have been dug from a nursery,
wrapped in burlap, and kept in the nursery for an additional period
of time, giving the roots opportunity to regenerate. B&B plants
can be quite large. Bare root trees are usually extremely small
plants. Because there is no soil on the roots, they must be planted
when they are dormant to avoid drying out. The roots must be kept
moist until planted. Frequently, bare root trees are offered by seed
and nursery mail order catalogs or in the wholesale trade. Many
state operated nurseries and local conservation districts also sell
bare root stock in bulk quantities for only a few cents per plant.
Bare root plants usually are offered in the early spring and should
be planted as soon as possible upon arrival.
Carefully follow the planting
instructions that come with your tree. If specific instructions are
not available, follow these tips:
DIGGING, call your local utilities to identify the
location of any underground utilities.
2. Dig a hole twice as wide as, and
slightly shallower than, the root ball. Roughen the sides and bottom
of the hole with a pick or shovel so that roots can penetrate the
3. With a potted tree, gently remove the
tree from the container. Lay the tree on its side with the container
end near the planting hole. Hit the bottom and sides of the
container until the root ball is loosened. If roots are growing in a
circular pattern around the root ball, slice through the roots on a
couple of sides of the root ball. With trees wrapped in burlap,
remove the string or wire that holds the burlap to the root crown.
It is unnecessary to completely remove the burlap. Plastic wraps
must be completely removed. Gently separate circling roots on the
root ball. Shorten exceptionally long roots, and guide the shortened
roots downward and outward. Root tips die quickly when exposed to
light and air, so don't waste time.
4. Place the root ball in the hole. Leave
the top of the root ball (where the roots end and the trunk begins)
1/2 to 1 inch above the surrounding soil, making sure not to cover
it unless roots are exposed. For bare root plants, make a mound of
soil in the middle of the hole and spread plant roots out evenly
over mound. Do not set trees too deep. As you add soil to fill in
around the tree, lightly tamp the soil to collapse air pockets, or
add water to help settle the soil. Form a temporary water basin
around the base of the tree to encourage water penetration, and
water thoroughly after planting. A tree with a dry root ball cannot
absorb water; if the root ball is extremely dry, allow water to
trickle into the soil by placing the hose at the trunk of the tree.
5. Mulch around the tree. A 3-foot
diameter circle of mulch is common.
6. Depending on the size of the tree and
the site conditions, staking may be beneficial. Staking supports the
tree until the roots are well established to properly anchor it.
Staking should allow for some movement of the tree. After trees are
established, remove all support wires. If these are not removed they
can girdle the tree, cutting into the trunk and eventually killing
For the first year or two, especially
after a week or so of especially hot or dry weather, watch your
trees closely for signs of moisture stress. If you see leaf wilting
or hard, caked soil, water the trees well and slowly enough to allow
the water to soak in. This will encourage deep root growth. Keep the
area under the trees mulched.
Some species of evergreen trees may need
protection against winter sun and wind. A thorough watering in the
fall before the ground freezes is recommended. Spray solutions are
available to help prevent drying of foliage during the winter.
Fertilization is usually not needed for
newly planted trees. Depending on soil and growing conditions,
fertilizer may be beneficial at a later time.
Young trees need protection against
rodents, frost cracks, sunscald, and lawn mowers and weed whackers.
Mice and rabbits frequently girdle small trees by chewing away the
bark at snow level. Since the tissues that transport nutrients in
the tree are located just under the bark, a girdled tree often dies
in the spring when growth resumes. Weed whackers are also a common
cause of girdling. Plastic guards are an inexpensive and easy
control method. Frost cracking is caused by the sunny side of the
tree expanding at a different rate than the colder shaded side. This
can cause large splits in the trunk. Sunscald can occur when a young
tree is suddenly moved from a shady spot into direct sun. Light
colored tree wraps can be used to protect the trunk from
Usually, pruning is not needed on newly
planted trees. As the tree grows, lower branches may be pruned to
provide clearance above the ground, or to remove dead or damaged
limbs or suckers that sprout from the trunk. Sometimes larger trees
need pruning to allow more light to enter the canopy. Small branches
can be removed easily with pruners. Large branches should be removed
with a pruning saw. All cuts should be vertical. This will allow the
tree to heal quickly without the use of sealants. Major pruning
should be done in late winter or early spring. At this time the tree
is more likely to "bleed" as sap is rising through the plant. This
is actually healthy and will help prevent invasion by many disease
organisms. Heavy pruning in the late summer or fall may reduce the
tree's winter hardiness. Removal of large branches can be hazardous.
If in doubt about your ability to prune properly, contact a
professional with the proper equipment.
Under no circumstance should trees be
topped. Not only does this practice ruin the natural shape of the
tree, but it increases susceptibility to diseases and results in
very narrow crotch angles, the angle between the trunk and the side
branch. Narrow crotch angles are weaker than wide ones and more
susceptible to damage from wind and ice. If a large tree requires
major reduction in height or size, contact a professionally trained
arborist. There are other methods to selectively remove large
branches without sacrificing the health or beauty of the tree.
On the farm
tree plantings slow the wind and provide shelter and food for
wildlife. Trees can shelter livestock and crops; they are used as
barriers to slow winds that blow across large cropped fields and
through farmsteads. Windbreaks can be beneficial in reducing
blowing and drifting snow along roadways. Farmstead and field
windbreaks and tree plantings are key components of a conservation
system. They also help prevent dust particles from adding to smog
over urban areas.