Friday April 27 is Arbor Day in New York, but there’s nothing wrong with observing it the following day, on Saturday, when everyone is available for a family outing.
That outing should start in your yard, not by piling in the car and going off to the garden center. Rather than buying a tree and then selecting a site for it, select the site before buying the tree.
Note whether the planting site is in full sunlight, shade or partial shade. Is it at the top of a hill or the base of a hill? This will determine how much water it gets since water runs downhill. Also, take note of the prevailing wind and the site’s distance from buildings, walks, the driveway or the pool.
At the garden store, check the information tag on the tree, or talk with a staff horticulturist, to be sure the tree you select will grow well on your site. “Right plant, right place” is today’s horticultural mantra. When a tree, shrub or other plant is planted on a site that fulfills its natural needs, it will be happy. It will grow well, and most insects and diseases will pass it by for a stressed or declining tree.
Here are energy saving tips for selecting your Arbor Day tree. If you are planting on the south or east side of the house, consider a deciduous tree (one that loses its leaves in winter). As it grows, the leaves will shade the house in summer and its leafless branches will allow winter sunlight to help warm your home. Evergreens on the north and west sides will help block the wind.
When you get your new tree home, dig a hole the depth of the root ball and two to three times wider than the root ball. It is OK if up to an inch of the root ball protrudes above the hole, but don’t plant it too deep. Don’t put fertilizer, mulch or compost in the hole. It is OK to mix them into the backfill, however.
With the tree in place, backfill, tamping the soil just enough to eliminate air pockets. Then water and mulch with two or three inches of organic mulch like wood chips. Be careful not to let the mulch touch the tree trunk, and do not pile mulch against the tree like mulch volcanoes.
Don’t stake your new tree unless you plant it in a location that is very windy. If you do have to stake it, use only one stake on the side of the prevailing wind. Use a soft material for the “guy”. Old panty hose or a similar fabric works well because the tree isn’t held rigid. Trees have to sway in the breeze to develop strong wood. Never use wire, not even wire encased in garden hose.
If you are not able to plant a tree on the official Arbor Day, make your own Arbor Day. There are only two periods during the year when trees should not be planted – in the heat of summer and when the ground is frozen in winter.