Trees can be a wonderful addition to your garden. They provide wildlife habitat, create shady areas, increase property values and can also be a fun place for a child to play! According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a carefully positioned tree can save up to 25 percent of a household's energy consumption for heating and cooling.
Selecting a Site
There are several things to consider when selecting the place that your new tree will call home. As with any kind of plant selection, the soil type, sun and shade conditions, and moisture level of the planting area should be evaluated so that you can match the growing requirements of the tree to its new site. This will ensure its survival and consistent growth.
Survey for overhead and underground utilities that can be problematic during the planting phase and as the tree reaches its full height and root depth. The proximity of your house and out buildings should also be a consideration. Avoid planting the tree so close to buildings that it will interfere with the roof, making it a potential hazard.
Knowing this kind of information will help you decide if you can plant a small tree, such as a dogwood, redbud, or hawthorne, or if a large oak, pine, or pecan could easily be accommodated in your yard. The function of the tree is also important to consider. Will it be multi-functional by providing screening, shade, noise reduction, erosion control, food, and/or cover?
Picking a Tree
What should you be looking for in a suitable tree for your wildlife habitat? First and foremost, you should opt for a tree species that is native to your area. It will be well-suited for native wildlife.
Choose a good quality, healthy tree with a straight central leader, strong shoot development with large buds and leaves, unbound white roots ready for transplant, and overall good branching structure. Avoid trees that have broken limbs, wounds on the trunk, discolored bark, or circling roots.
While fall is usually the best time to plant new trees, experts at garden centers can help guide you to trees that are in season.
How to Plant the Tree
Once you purchase your tree the next step is to plant it. This crucial task will be the determining factor of whether your tree lives happily ever after or is destined for a quick and untimely death!
Dig a shallow hole. Make it a diameter that is at least three times the diameter of the root ball. The hole should be no deeper than the height of the root ball, otherwise the tree roots will not be able to get enough oxygen and will have difficulty developing. Be sure to slope the sides and scrape them with a rake or pitchfork to allow for better root penetration.
Plant the tree. Place the tree in the hole, making sure to lift it by the rootball and not by the trunk. Before back-filling the hole with dirt, have someone view the tree in its hole from all sides to confirm that the tree is straight. Begin filling the hole with the original soil that was removed until it is about one-third full, and then gently pack the soil around the base of the root ball. If it's a balled and burlapped tree, cut string and wire from around the trunk and top one-third of the root ball. Continue back-filling the hole by adding a few inches of soil at a time followed by water to eliminate drying air pockets until the hole is filled and the tree is firmly planted. Adding chemical fertilizer is not necessary and can actually be detrimental to the new tree, as well as the creatures in your wildlife habitat.
Stake tree if necessary. Protective staking may be needed if you have a particularly windy site, a tree with a top-heavy crown, anticipate lawn mower damage, or are concerned about vandalism. Otherwise trees really do not need additional support, and staking can actually compromise the development of the trunk and root system. When staking a tree place the two stakes outside of the root ball area and use a flexible tie material to keep the tree upright while still leaving enough slack to allow for wind sway. Remove the staking material after first year of growth.
Always mulch new trees. Add no more than two to three inches of mulch on top of the root ball to keep moisture in, keep weeds out, and incorporate organic material into the soil. Keep mulch at least two inches away from the base of the trunk to reduce fungal growth and wood rot. As the tree matures, leave leaf litter in place to act as natural mulch.
Follow up care. Remove all tags and labels to prevent girdling of branches or trunks. New trees need to be routinely watered for at least two years after planting. Watering sessions should be determined by the natural rainfall level to avoid over watering, which can be just as damaging as not watering enough. Trees should be watered very deeply in the root zone area. When the soil below the mulch layer is dry, it is time to water. It is not necessary to use tree wrap on new trees as it often promotes disease and insect infestations and can do more harm than good. Protective bark guards can prove beneficial in areas that receive weed cutting maintenance, such as school grounds or places of business.