Fall is for planting, and that time will soon be upon us. Selecting a tree and a planting site should be no trivial matter. After all, many trees that are planted this fall may outlive their owners. You should prepare to plant with longevity in mind because it’ll only happen if you select the right plant for the right place. Otherwise, your efforts and investment could become a short-lived money pit.
If you don’t like where you’re living, you can move. Few trees have that luxury. They have to stand there and take whatever nature and the environment metes out. As stressed trees’ health decline, they begin costing money for repair. When they finally give up the ghost, the cost to take them down becomes a major investment. It will then cost even more to fill the empty space left by the tree removal.
The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) suggests you ask yourself these questions and use your answers in making your tree selection and placement decisions:
• Why am I planting this tree? What functions will it serve? Large, healthy trees increase property values and make outdoor surroundings more pleasant. A deciduous shade tree that loses its leaves in fall provides cooling relief from summer’s heat while allowing the winter sun to warm your home. An ornamental tree displays beautiful flowers, leaves, bark or fruit. Evergreens with dense, persistent foliage can provide a windbreak or a screen for privacy. A tree or shrub that produces fruit can provide food for you or wildlife. Trees can also reduce runoff, filter out pollutants and add oxygen to the air we breathe.
• Is a small, medium or large tree best suited for the location and available space? Do overhead or belowground utilities preclude planting a large, growing tree — or any tree at all? What clearance is needed for sidewalks, patios, or driveways? Selecting the right form (shape) to complement the desired function (what you want the tree to do) can significantly reduce maintenance costs and increase the tree’s value in the landscape. In addition, mature tree size determines the level of benefits received. Larger trees typically provide the greatest economic and environmental returns. Depending on the site, you can choose from hundreds of form and size combinations. A low, spreading tree may be planted under overhead utility lines. A narrow, columnar evergreen may provide a screen between two buildings. Large, vase-shaped trees can create an arbor over a driveway.
Site conditions to consider when making your selection and placement decisions include soil conditions, exposure to sun and wind, drainage, space constraints, hardiness zone, human activity and insect and disease susceptibility. If the site is shady, you’ll want to select a shade tolerant tree instead of one that loves sun. You won’t want to select a tree that won’t tolerate wet feet for a low part your landscape. Hardiness is the plant’s ability to survive in the extreme temperatures of the particular geographic region where you’re planting the tree. We’re in Zone 5. Planting the wrong tree in the wrong place accounts for more tree deaths than all insect and disease related deaths combined.
• What are the soil conditions? Is enough soil of sufficient quality available to support mature tree growth? When new homes are built, the soil is often disturbed, shallow, compacted and subject to drought. Most trees will suffer in these conditions without additional care. We can take soil samples from your yard to test for texture, fertility, salinity and pH (alkalinity or acidity). These tests can be used to determine which trees are suited for your property and may include recommendations for improving poor soil conditions.
Following these ISA recommendations, which I heartily endorse, can make this an autumn to remember…the start of a long and beneficial relationship.
My work used to involve more of this for clients.