Trees are one of nature’s great wonders. They are magnificent things that boost our emotional health and provide other tangible benefits, such as supplying wildlife habitat and protection from wind and soil erosion.
Trees can reduce heating and cooling costs by shading a home or deflecting cold winter winds. They can also clean the air and produce oxygen.
Trees are generally planted either in the spring or fall. Some deciduous trees, such as aspen and elm, seem to have a better survival rate if planted in the spring but I prefer the fall for planting a tree.
The soil is warm and will remain so well into November, whereas the soil in the spring is cold.
Container-grown trees from a reputable nursery can be planted any time during the growing season, but planting trees in the heat of mid-summer causes them undue stress, so it is best to wait until fall.
If the tree that is to be planted has not yet leafed out in the spring or has shed its leaves in the fall, it will be less stressed by the planting process.
Select the right tree for the right location. Consider its size, the exposure and take note of its zone rating. I live in Zone 2 and will hesitate to plant any tree rated higher than Zone 3 because it may not thrive and might not even survive the winter.
We often stretch the zone envelope with other plants in our gardens, such as perennials and shrubs, but it is not a good idea with trees because they are expensive, long-term investments in our landscapes.
When making your choice, determine the purpose the tree will serve. Make sure to take into account the mature size of the tree so that it is not planted too close to buildings and driveways.
Deciding whether an evergreen or a deciduous tree will be planted will depend on personal preference as well as the purpose the tree will serve.
Keep in mind that evergreens don’t involve the annual task of raking leaves in the fall.
Ensure that the location you choose is appropriate. Don’t plant trees under overhead wires or on spots where there are underground pipes or conduits.
If the tree has a particularly invasive root system, keep it away from the house foundation and underground sewer pipes to prevent future problems.
After choosing the tree and selecting the site, dig a hole twice as wide and a little deeper than the root ball of the tree. At the bottom of the hole, ensure there is a pedestal of soil in the centre on which the root ball will sit.
This ensures excess water will drain toward the outside of the hole if the tree is overwatered.
Remove the tree from its container. If it is in burlap with a wire cage, cut the wires and remove them. If you are afraid the root ball will collapse when you do this, do it after placing the tree into the hole and then cut the burlap into pieces so that you can pull it off the root ball.
Some people maintain that the burlap and wires can stay in place but I believe they may impede root penetration, so I recommend removal.
If the roots on the exterior of the root ball seem to encircle it and the tree seems root bound, you may want to rough up the outside of the root ball to encourage the roots to begin growing outward into the soil when it is planted.
Try to have the tree standing upright as you begin to backfill the hole with good quality soil.
As you fill the hole, add water and soil until the hole is full, all the while keeping the tree upright. Use a level to determine it is standing straight.
Some tamping might be required to make sure that there are no air pockets, although watering will usually eliminate air pockets from the soil.
Add soil until the tree is planted at the same depth it was planted in its container or just covering where the trunk meets the roots. Do not add fertilizer.
Hopefully the hole will have been dug deeply enough that there will still be a slight depression around the tree to hold water when the tree is watered.
The next week when the soil settles, you may have to add a bit more soil. If the tree is a large one or if it is just a sapling, it may require staking. A larger specimen might require three stakes while one stake will be suffice for a sapling.
Use ties that will not damage the bark and ensure the tree is perfectly upright when the staking job is completed.
Keep your newly planted tree watered but not waterlogged until freezeup. If it is an evergreen tree, you might want to erect a burlap windscreen to protect the tree from sun and wind damage during the winter.
The screen should not touch the tree and should be fastened to sturdy stakes that will withstand strong winter winds.
Albert Parsons has a diploma in horticulture from the University of Guelph and maintains a flourishing garden at Minnedosa, Man. Contact: countrygarden @producer.com.