Winter is a good time to do a little research before the landscape season is upon us, especially if new trees or shrubs are in your plans. When spring arrives and you go to your garden center with your plant list, you’ll be better prepared.
The internet is a good place to begin. The site I recommend for good, professional information is http://www.treesaregood.com. It’s the International Society of Arboriculture’s (ISA’s) consumer information site. A selection of consumer flyers can be downloaded free from the Tree Owner Information heading. The Arbor Day Foundation (arborday.org) is another worthwhile site. One caution, though: the foundation sells trees at what appears to be a very low price. These are bare root saplings. My advice is to obtain the information you need from their list to help you select a tree you like but to purchase it at a local nursery or garden center where you can examine the tree before you buy.
Your first step should be to select a site on your property where a tree or shrub is needed. Determine the amount of space that you have available. Are there any obstacles like driveways, walkways, overhead or underground utilities or even pool or patio that could be adversely impacted by planting on that site? How much sunlight does the site receive? How is the drainage? What type of soil is there? You may have to wait until spring to determine the drainage and soil conditions but the answers to all of these questions affect your plant selection. If the site and the plant aren’t compatible, you’ll have nothing but headaches ranging from extra maintenance to the plant dying. Remember…right plant, right place.
Your second step should be to decide why you want a plant in that space. The German Bauhaus art school’s “form follows function” design philosophy should apply. Knowing why you want a plant in that space will also influence your selection. Are you planting it as a windbreak, to provide cooling, for privacy, to fill an empty space in your landscape design, for its fruit or to clean the air or prevent erosion?
When you select a plant variety that you would like, check for any problems before getting attached to it. Is it hardy in our zone 5/6 climate? Does it have any potential pest problems? (You wouldn’t want to plant an ash tree today, for example.) Is the growth pattern right for the site?
You’ll have to wait a couple of months before garden centers begin receiving their fresh plants from the nurseries but when you go, with your research fresh in your mind, seek additional advice from one of their staff horticulturists. It’s a good bet that the tree you buy this spring will outlive you so you’ll have to care for it a good long time – good reason to get it right.
Carefully look over the plant you’re considering. Be sure the trunk is straight and solid with no wounds and good branching structure with no crossing or rubbing branches and no co-dominant stems. When a trunk branches into two or more “Y” shaped trunks that appear to be of near equal size, those are co-dominant stems. Even though they appear equal, one is always weaker and prone to breakage and other major problems that you don’t need.
Have the horticulturist pull it out of the pot or pull the burlap back so you can check for girdling root. That’s a root that’s encircling the root ball. If everything else checks out, it’s OK to have the horticulturist cut the girdling root out.
When you get the plant home, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball but only the depth of the root ball. Remove the tree from its pot and stand it in the hole. If it’s balled and burlapped, cut the wire or twine and pull the burlap down from the sides. Backfill the hole, stopping about halfway to gently tamp the soil to eliminate any air pockets. Finish backfilling, tamp again, water and mulch. Don’t stake unless you are planting in a very windy location.
For expert assistance, you can select the site, define your reason for planting, have some varieties in mind and turn the rest over to one of our professional landscape designers. Our professional designers know plants so be open minded if they advise against planting in a certain location. You’ll thank the designer for saving you a lot of work in the future.