April 29 is Arbor Day in most states. Originally started in Nebraska in the early 1800s when that state was a treeless plain, Arbor Day celebrates the tree. Many communities commemorate this day by hosting tree planting parties and even giving away free plants. Arbor Day has even spread overseas and is observed in many countries worldwide.
So, why plant a tree? How do I plant one? How do I maintain my tree? Let’s answer a few simple tree questions:
Why plant a tree?
Aside from the ascetic joy of watching a tree grow into maturity, trees offer many benefits. They create a complex root system, holding the soil in place and preventing erosion. Trees create a haven for wildlife, helping to attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects to your garden. Trees give us cleaner air. Their leaves take in poisonous carbon monoxide and turn it into healthy carbon dioxide. They also shade our houses and help regulate the temperature inside.
How to plant a tree
Before you start digging, make sure that you choose the right place for your tree. Is it a sun-loving tree or, like the Dogwood, does it prefer filtered sun? Make sure that you consider the tree’s mature size. Planting a large tree too close to the house can damage the tree as well as your house’s foundation. Too many houses in my neighborhood are hidden behind monster pine trees that were once cute, little shrubs. Remember a full-grown tree is difficult and expensive to move.
Your tree will flourish only if you plant it in the proper light. Most trees prefer full sun, but a few smaller trees, like the Dogwood and Japanese Maples, prefer to be understory trees – that is, trees planted under the shade of taller trees. Information on specific trees is generally available online or from your county extension office.
Having chosen the perfect site, dig a hole about twice as wide as the tree’s root ball and just as high, but no higher than the root ball.
No soil amendments (peat, compost) are recommended for planting new trees. This allows the root structure to gradually acclimate to its new location. After setting the tree in the hole, gradually fill the hole with dirt, making sure to keep the top of the root ball even with the ground. Next, build a 4″ tall rim in the dirt around the tree and fill the basin with mulch. Water liberally, filling the basin with water. For the first week after planting, lightly water the tree every day (about one pint each day). The second week, water every other day. After that, water once a week, if needed. The aim is to wean the tree off of irrigation and encourage the root system to thrive on natural rainfall.
Rarely does a tree need staking. However, if the tree is not sturdy enough to stand on its own, use two stakes, one on either side of the tree. Attach them to the tree loosely with covered wire, allowing room for the trunk to grow. Remove the stakes after the first year.
Maintaining a tree
Once your tree is established, very little maintenance is required. Prune broken branches as needed and prune the tree to maintain its shape in the fall and spring. Remember: don’t prune more than a third of the tree in any one season.
Follow these easy steps and sit back and enjoy your tree, and the wildlife it will attract, for years to come.