Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2007
Regional Report

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This young white oak may have looked tiny when planted way out in the yard, but someday it will reach from the street to the house and be the key feature of the landscape.

Make a Wise Investment in Your Landscape

"The best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago. The second best time is today." You've probably heard this advice. In fact, late winter is a great time to plant trees, but it helps to do some investigating and learning beforehand. You're about to make a very long-term investment so take some time to make sure you get it right.

The Best Choices
Start by choosing a good, long-lived, strong species. Every tree has its pros and cons, but some species are notorious for problems. Each area of the lower south has its own star performers, so check with local arborists or your local Extension office for suggestions.

Location Matters
Next choose a good location for the tree. Before planting, look down and look up. Locate underground water and other utility lines before digging. Consider the location of overhead lines as well. That little scrawny stick you are planting is going to be a giant spreading specimen some day. The power company will gladly trim it up for you, but trust me, you won't like the job they do!

Likewise, the tree at planting time may look lost way out there in the yard, but it is best to envision its mature size and not plant it so close to your home that the limbs rub the eaves and shingles, or the roots create problems with foundations, sidewalks, driveways, or other masonry structures.

Careful Planting
Finally plant it correctly. You may have heard an old adage to the effect of "don't put a $25 plant in a 25-cent hole," and this is all the more true when it comes to trees. The best planting hole for a tree is shallow and wide. Dig the hole just deep enough to accommodate the root system; any deeper and the soil may settle and leave the tree too deep. It is very important to set the tree at the depth it was growing previously.

Use the soil from the planting hole to refill the hole. Don't add compost or special mixes. These only discourage the roots from extending out into the soil. The tree will eventually have to survive in the soil from the site, so amending the planting hole just does not make sense.

Firm the soil around the roots, water the tree in well as you fill the planting hole to remove air pockets. It is sometimes beneficial to form a large, circular raised dam on the soil surface to make it easier to give the tree a good deep soaking during the first critical summer season. Then mulch the soil surface with a few inches of leaves or wood chips.

Most trees do not need to be staked. Taller trees and evergreens with a full canopy of leaves to catch the wind may benefit from staking, provided the wires are checked every few weeks and adjusted to prevent damage to the trunk and branches. Trees may be attached to stakes by a strong wire run through a piece of old garden hose to prevent damage to the trunk and limbs of the tree. Most situations require either two wires on opposite sides of the tree, or three wires evenly spaced around the tree. Do not leave stakes and wires on longer than one year.

Now, for a very important step! When the tree is planted, kneel down near the base and hold your hand over your heart while you take the following oath, "I will never get anywhere even remotely close to this tree's trunk with a lawnmower or weed eater." The smallest little nicks can provide entry for cankers and result in debilitating wounds on a new tree's tender trunk.

Late winter to early spring is an excellent time to plant a shade tree. The earlier you get trees planted, the more time they will have to begin the long process of establishing a strong root system to get ready for the hot summer months ahead. A shade tree is an investment in your home. It makes sense to select the species that best fits your site and interests. It pays to plant it right and provide good care during the first few years. Do it right for your own sake, and for the next generation's too.

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