by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Practically all holidays celebrate the past, commemorating historical events or people. However, there is one holiday that looks to the future. Arbor Day, originating here in the United States in 1872, celebrates the planting of trees. While your local date may vary, according to climate zones and planting seasons, here in the U.S. most Arbor Day celebrations are held the last Friday in April.
Planting a tree, that will take decades to mature, is an ultimate act of faith in the future. You probably enjoy trees around your home or neighborhood planted by folks long gone. You might want to repay that favor by planting a tree to be enjoyed by those that will follow you.
Since you want your tree to endure to bless the lives of future generations, a bit of research is necessary before planting. Check with area tree services, nurseries, universities, or local publications to find out what trees do well in your climate, and also the best time to plant. Then, look at your planting site. What varieties will do best in the available sunlight, both as a young sapling and later at full size? Is there sufficient room for the expected mature size? While a young tree may look cute three feet from your front door, the pruning necessary to keep your front walk passable in later years may be detrimental to the health and looks of the tree - perhaps even leading to an untimely demise.
What kind of tree do you want? If you're planting a fruit tree, research the necessary hours of winter chill required for blossoms to form, plus its low temperature hardiness, then compare to your climate. Some fruit and nut trees require a different-variety pollinator. Unless you have room for two trees or there's a different one in the yard next door, you might have to search out a self-pollinating variety.
Think about underground: have your local utilities locate any lines or pipes before starting to dig. You don't want to put a water-sucking tree with invasive roots over the pipe leading to your septic tank - that's just asking for expensive plumbing problems. Plan ahead too - tree roots generally spread as far as the mature extent of the canopy above. The best street trees are ones with root systems that won't lift concrete sidewalks into an impassable jumble; that can withstand the weight of traffic and possible road-use chemicals in your area.
Look up, too. There's nothing so sad as a line of trees butchered because they grew too high for their site and the power company trimmed them. Investigate utility easements, too. There might not be an electrical line or television cable there now, but they might have the right to put one in later. And your tree will pay the price.
Landscaping can add thousands to the value of a home. Trees not only add to the beauty of a home, properly sited they can help reduce heating and cooling costs. Windbreak trees can cut cold winter winds; deciduous trees can provide cooling shade in the summer and warming sunlight in the winter.
When you've done your research, and selected a variety, it's time to purchase your young tree. Check for damage to the bark or broken branches. Although I sometimes transplant suckers or volunteer seedlings from my own property, please, do NOT go out to dig up a young tree in the wild. The damage to the entire forest ecosystem goes way beyond just the displaced dirt. Besides, the tree most certainly will not survive, or if it does its growth can be set back for years. Trees sold by nurseries have undergone a season or two of root pruning that concentrates the roots into a ball. If obtained when dormant, bare-root trees can be a less-expensive option than paying to transport a lot of dirt too.
When digging a planting hole, go wide instead of deep. Tree roots spread out, so you want a hole three times the width but only as deep as the root ball. Remove any wire, plastic or burlap wrapping completely. Pick your tree up by the root ball, not the trunk. When you have your tree placed in the hole, check for correct depth using the handle of your shovel across the top edges of the hole, tipping the tree over to add or remove dirt as necessary. If you look at the base of a tree, it will flare out a bit where it transitions from trunk to roots. That little bit of flare needs to be just at ground level. If you see a tree that goes straight up from the ground, it's been planted too deep. Backfill with half the dirt and use water, not stomping, to get soil into any air pockets before adding the rest of the dirt.
If you absolutely need to stake the tree, align two stakes, one on either side of the tree, perpendicular to the prevailing winds, placed outside the planting hole. Use stretchy tie material around the trunk and back to the stake. Remove the stakes the following year, sooner if possible. If you're adding mulch, keep it at least a couple of inches away from the trunk. In temperate climates, young trees need an inch of water weekly, which you'll have to provide if Mother Nature doesn't. Tree roots extend as far as the branches above do, called the dripline. So you'll need to move or add to your irrigation as the tree grows to deliver water further from the trunk. With care taken now, your tree should be a blessing for decades to come.