For The Future Plant A Tree
On Arbor Day plant the right tree, one for your grandkids.
David Robson
Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.

The last Friday of this month is Arbor Day, or more technically according to the state statute that designates it, Arbor and Bird Day.

Everyone should plant a tree this year. Even if you don’t have room for it on your property, and some of us fit that boat but haven’t really accepted it yet, look for some place else. Consider a park. A cemetery. A schoolyard. A nursing home. Make sure to get permission first.

The Chinese have a great saying - don’t plant a tree for yourself, but for your grandkids.

Trees and birds go hand in hand, sort of. Birds have a hard time surviving without trees. It’s hard to say the reverse is true, though birds do a great job disseminating seeds all over the place that give many trees a start. Of course sometimes they do that while sitting on power lines. That keeps your electric co-op right of way crews busy. Make sure you don’t add to the problem by planting tall growing trees too close to power lines. This winter’s ice storms were a good reminder of why power lines and trees don’t mix.

This winter’s weather should have impressed most of us that trees need to be well-shaped with strong branches. Fast growing trees may be good for providing quick shade, but they also quickly snap during ice and snow storms, not to mention the ever popular tornadoes that spread across the state.

If you wanted a rule of thumb, you could say that any tree that grows more than 2 to 3 feet in one year should be avoided. Faster growth usually means weaker wood, which usually means more kindling to start fires.

The ideal tree should grow at least 12 to 18 inches yearly during its first 20 or so years, though flowering cherries, dogwoods and redbuds usually slow down before that.

If I had to stress three points, it would be these:

1.Dig a wide hole, but not deep. The wider the better. A wide hole allows the roots to spread out.

Roots would rather go out to brace the tree. More importantly, they spread out to look for water and nutrients, which are more abundant in the upper 12 to 18 inches of soil than down deep. If you have clay soil, the roots are probably closer to the surface, looking for air.

A deep hole will only allow the tree to sink, so the tree’s natural flare isn’t at ground level.

Don’t expect trees that you buy to have the flare at ground level. You may have to brush some soil away from the trunk of the tree to see just where the roots meet the trunk, and plant the tree at that level.

2.Buy a tree with a straight leader and not one that is split into two, three or more.

Single leader trees don’t split. Or at least, they don’t split as easily. Silver maples are notorious for having two leaders, or main trunks. You can notice the Y-shape to the tree easily. While it looks like the leaders have grown together where they meet, they haven’t. There is no shared bark, which means the tree will break. The tighter the angle between the branches, the more likely there’s no bark strength. Bradford ornamental pears are another classic example, though there are some ornamentals with the proper 45 to 60 degrees between branches.

Look a tree over carefully. Bigger isn’t always better. Getting a straight tree is important. If you can’t find one with a single leader, get your pruners out after planting and pick the straightest and strongest looking one. Remove the other.

3.Trees need care for the first 10 years, not the first month. Keep no more than 4 inches of mulch around the base of the tree to repel the lawn mower and help control weeds. Water the tree religiously during the first 10 years if the plant doesn’t get an inch of water at least once every two weeks.

There’s no need to fertilize the tree right away. As the years go by and the tree isn’t growing enough, apply some fertilizer in the fall. Generally, if you’re feeding your grass, the tree will benefit.

Watch for insects, diseases and four-legged creatures that might cause injury, but relish the thought that you’re providing perches and nesting areas for our feathered friends.


For more information:

check out the University of Illinois Web site at: www.ipm.uiuc.eduYou can contact David Robson via E-mail:

Or write to him in care of:

Illinois Country Living
P.O. Box 3787,
Springfield, IL 62708.

Telephone: (217) 782-6515