When it came to tree planting, Johnny Appleseed had it made. The legendary sower had one type of tree to plant and a countryside full of room -- no power lines, no sidewalks, no television cables snaking beneath the sod and baiting the blade of his shovel.
Sure, you have to contend with some modern-day hurdles in your quest to plant trees, but there's no reason to let them stub your enthusiasm. The ground is thawing, the weather is warming. Put off your taxes and do something productive.
Tree planting can not only add long-term value to the appearance of your property, it can also subtract dollars from your utility bills. Large shade trees planted on the south or southwest side of your property can provide shade in the summer, reducing the workload of your air-conditioning system and making a patio more comfortable in the late afternoon. For savings on winter heating bills, you can plant large evergreen trees to form a windbreak.
Planting smaller ornamental trees, such as Yoshino cherry, flowering dogwood or Japanese maple enhances the look of your home and grounds. The smaller mature size of most ornamental and flowering trees makes them good choices to plant close to the house or in small garden spaces. Their root systems are not as likely to crack sidewalks or driveways or interfere with underground utilities.
At this time of year, most landscape nurseries are bringing in their supply of trees for the spring season. The best selection of trees will be available in the next four to six weeks. After that, good trees become harder to find until fall.
Trees are an investment. A tree that is big enough to look like a tree -- that is, to make a landscape statement -- costs around $75. Shade trees that are 8 to 10 feet tall can cost $100 and up. Smaller flowering trees (up to 8 feet) cost $60 to $100. If cost is a factor, start with a smaller tree. It will be easier to transport and plant and better able to adjust to the shock of relocation than a larger tree.
Following is a list of suggestions for selecting trees and planting them properly.
The variety of trees is mind-boggling. It'll help if you decide, before you go shopping, why you want a tree. Trees can provide shade, flowers or both. Deciding what your needs and desires are simplifies the selection process.
How big a tree do you need for shade? It takes a tree that will grow 40 to 70 feet tall and 25 to 35 feet wide to shade a two-story house. A tree 20 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide will shade a patio or garden corner.
Some trees are neat, some are messy. Are you willing to devote chunks of weekends to cleaning up flowers, fruit and leaves -- especially leaves? Think "low-maintenance" if your idea of tree ownership is planting a tree and watching it grow.
You wouldn't shop for bread at a hardware store, so don't buy a tree from someplace other than an established nursery or garden center. At these places, employees will not only sell you a tree but also give you advice on planting it.
Trees come two ways: in a container (typically a plastic bucket) or with a ball of earth surrounding the roots. The ball usually will be wrapped in burlap (to keep the earth packed firmly around the tree's roots).
Container-grown trees are usually smaller, and for inexperienced gardeners are a safer purchase. It's easier to get them into the ground without damaging them. Select container-grown trees that are snugly anchored in the container. Avoid those with loose or crumbling soil (a sign of a tree that is damaged or not well-rooted in the container).
Balled-and-burlapped trees should have a solid ball of earth. Avoid trees with cracked, crumbly or sandy root balls or those with large roots protruding against the wrapping. And if the trunk wobbles at the top of the root ball, don't buy it.
Avoid buying any trees with scarred trunks or erratic, broken or dead branches; trees that are misshapen; or trees that just don't look healthy. Generally, a young, small tree planted in a large, well-dug hole will grow more rapidly in the first three to five years after planting than a larger tree planted to provide an "instant landscape."
If you want large trees now, have the nursery plant them and guarantee the tree will live for a year. Be aware that the planting will increase the price of a tree by 50 to 100 percent of the retail cost.
The right location
Once you get your tree home, you'll have to decide where to put it. Actually, it's not a bad idea to make that decision before you buy the tree. Either way, get professional help in choosing the right site if you feel uncertain.
Give the tree room to grow. Roots of large trees can damage walks, driveways or a house's foundation. Plant large trees at least 10 to 15 feet from walks and drives and 15 to 20 feet from foundations. Small trees need one-half these distances.
Plant shade trees on the south or southwest side of whatever you wish to shade; planting there interrupts the hottest summer sun.