If you are thinking about adding some trees to your landscape, late winter is the time to start thinking about what type of tree and where it should be planted. In late winter trees arrive in the plant nurseries. That is the time because trees are still dormant and will suffer less transplant shock. Transplant shock can show up months later when the weather gets hot. It may show up as stunted or uneven growth or the tree may suddenly die. The best way to avoid transplant shock and other problems with a new tree is choose the right tree for your area, and plant the tree correctly and early in the spring as soon as the ground can be worked.
While most of us want shade and a mature landscape quickly, most fast growing trees end up being a problem in just a few years. Some examples are chinaberry trees, sycamores, willows, fruitless mulberries and the empress tree. Fast growing trees are usually short-lived and prone to insect and disease problems. The empress tree or Paulownia, is probably the most famous of all low quality landscape trees. Invasive and messy, the empress tree is often sold as a fast grower with beautiful flowers. It’s also sold as a tree that’s great for firewood. That should tell you something. Most folks plant trees for shade or landscape value, not firewood.
When planning for a tree, look at your overall objective. Do you want shade, screen, windbreak or a simply a colorful conversation piece? Know the overall height of the tree you want to plant. If the description says a height of 50 feet and an equally large spread, count on it getting that big and plant at least 40 feet from the house to prevent mildew and little animals from using the tree to access your roof. Look up to see if you are planting under a power line. If your tree grows into the public power lines and causes a power disruption, the utility company can make your tree really ugly in about one hour. Only plant small trees such as redbuds under a power line.
Plant a new tree in native soil. You don’t need potting soil or anything else in the planting hole except the dirt that came out of the hole. Dig a hole that is large enough for the root ball and deep enough so that the tree is the same depth as it was in the container. On both container trees and bare root trees, there will be a discolored area at the base of the tree where the soil line was. Don’t set the tree in a way that the roots curl up or encircle the root ball. Add water into the planting hole and slowly add soil so there aren’t any air pockets around the roots. Root stimulator, which is liquid phosphorous mixed with other nutrients, added to the backfill can help the tree get established more quickly. Add mulch to a depth of 4 inches around the trunk and about 24 inches out. Leave a 1-inch space between the trunk of the tree and the mulch. Don’t plant trees right next to an old stump. The microbes in the old stump will pull nitrogen away from the new tree during the normal decay process. Don’t fertilize your new tree until it is well established in about 6-8 months. Water deeply once a week for the first year.
My favorite large trees (greater than 50 feet) are the Red Oak, Chinkapin Oak, and Bur Oak. Medium Trees (30-50 feet tall) I like are the Chinese Pistache, Cedar Elm, Lacey Oak, and “Aristocrat” Bradford Pear. For small trees (less than 30 feet) the Crepe Myrtle, Texas, Oklahoma, or Mexican Redbud, Yaupon Holly, Loquat, Vitex, and Windmill Palm are all great choices.
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