The Correct Tree for the Right Location
What tree should I plant?
The type of tree you choose can make every difference in the world as far as whether it will thrive or be the source of headaches. In order to choose the correct species, consider the environment it will live in and what sort of aesthetics it will contribute to your overall landscape. A little forethought in choosing the right tree is an investment that can pay off for a lifetime or more.
The first thing you need to consider is the amount of light that your tree will receive. While all trees need sunlight to survive, some are more hardy on less light than others, but even these still need light at least part of the day in order to flourish. Keep in mind too that, some plants that can tolerate the shade, such as yew and hemlocks, will have rather sparse foliage and their growth will be spindly. If there is no sunlight, consider a tough shrub, such as the European buckthorn, instead.
You need to also consider what sort of access the tree will have to water. Too much or too little water will be bad for the roots and can even result in death. Once the tree is established, it will be stronger and can do without water for short periods of time. But young trees need to be carefully monitored. Ensure that your trees have access to enough water. Irrigate if necessary.
Trees reside in the soil they’re planted in forever. So it’s critical that you know the key characteristics of your soil (what is its consistency of organic content? what is its pH (alkaline or acid)? what is the texture (sand, silt, clay, mix)? how dense is it?) before choosing and planting your tree.
While you’ll need to take a sample to a lab to get an accurate pH reading or to see if the amount of organic matter, it’s easy to determine the texture and density.
If you have a hard time getting a sample because the ground is too hard, or if you are planting around new construction, you probably have compacted soil.
To test for texture, wet the soil and rub some of it in your fingers. If it feels gritty, you probably have sand. If it feels slimy, you probably have silt. If it feels gooey and you can make pottery out of it, you probably have clay.
See? It’s not rocket science!
The ideal soil is 3.5% organic matter, pH of 6.8, a texture of 25% sand, 50% silt, and 25% clay, and a bulk density of less than 1 gram per cm3.
Most of the time, urban landscapes are less than desirable. So, what can be done? Based on soil test results, you can adjust the soil to make it more fitting and then, from there, select trees that work best with your improved soil.
To improve compacted soils or low organic matter (<3.5%), add prescription organic matter to the soil. We don’t recommend planting red or pin oaks, river or white birch, or red maples if your pH is over 7.2. Avoid spruce or other mountain species requiring good drainage if you’re planting in heavy clay soil. Once you have eliminated the trees that should not be planted in your soil, visit your local nursery or garden center and have them help you determine which type of tree is best for your project.
It might seem obvious, but people often forget that these trees will grow! Make sure you know what type of growth to expect for the tree you’re considering planting. For example, in a matter of 5 to 10 years, caliper spruce or maple will grow over 10 times its original size when you planted it!. Be sure to account for this when considering placement, as well as make sure you don’t crowd the trees Otherwise, these trees will need to compete for light, space, and water.
Be sure that you account for a large amount of root growth. Remember that the rootstock requires a lot of room… don’t plant this too close to other features (sidewalks, home foundations, retention walls, etc.).
Fruits, Flowers, and Raking (Maintenance)
Be familiar with the qualities of a tree that you may value but may end up also requiring maintenance. For example, trees that flower is beautiful when they bloom. However, those same flowers will usually produce fruit, which will eventually lead to unwanted messes. Of course, the fruit may be exactly what you are wanting… just know what you’re getting into.
Another example is the Catalpa tree. It has huge leaves and seed pods… so raking will be necessary. Silver maples tend to drop small branches and twigs all over the ground that need to be picked up before you can mow your lawn. Norway maples produce many seeds that germinate where they land in the lawn, in pavement cracks, and in planter boxes. Don’t forget too that trees don’t respect property boundaries, nor do the birds and wind guarantee that they won’t spread your mess for you.
Now that you know what kind of tree you want, how do you select a “quality” tree? Trees can be spaded from the field, balled and burlapped (B&B), bare-rooted, or containerized. All processes are industry standards. However it is handled, make sure that the roots are not circling and are in good condition. Ask to see the root flare and root condition before purchasing the tree. Avoid trees that have excessive or visible damage, or swollen tissue at the graft union.
Remember that a smaller tree will adapt better to new soil conditions than a large tree and will likely surpass a larger tree planted in its stead. It takes over 4 times as long for a large tree to adapt to a site. It’s also much easier to correct branch structure problems on young trees since younger trees are more vibrant and can better recover from pruning. Plus, starting early with the pruning will prevent future issues with limbs that could potentially be hazardous to its structure.
An integrated approach
When caring for urban trees, make sure you consider all factors, including the soil, the environment, and available light. A little forethought and investigation will go a long way in resulting in a healthy tree that generations can enjoy.