Many of us, scorched during summer, dream of planting a tree on our property. Winter’s a great time to make plans for that. Trees provide shade, control erosion, aid with stormwater run-off, host pollinators, provide free mulch, give us fruits and nuts, sequester the carbon overloading our planet, improve our air—and they’re majestic and beautiful.
But without proper planning, the tree you purchase may die or grow up to cause you headaches. The optimum time to actually plant your new tree would be either fall or late winter-early spring when active roots use the cool weather to take up water and nutrients and settle into the soil before summer’s heat stress.
The dead of winter is perfect for looking at the “skeleton” of your landscape, deciding where you want your new tree and what kind will best fit that site. Ask yourself these questions: What are the site attributes? Is it dry or damp? Is the soil sandy, loamy, or clay? A soil test can help determine what nutrients might be needed.
How much room does this site allow for a tree’s growth? Haven’t you seen an attractive sapling planted four feet from the corner of a new house, and five years later it’s fifteen feet tall with a canopy needing twice the room the site allows? That tree will end up badly pruned or cut down and thrown away. Research and forethought could have prevented this loss of time, effort, and money.
Speaking of space, don’t forget to look up! Consider your tree canopy’s mature width so it avoids entangling with power lines. The Electric Power Research Institute estimates utilities spend over 1 billion dollars annually trimming and removing obstructing trees.
What kind of maintenance suits you? Don’t aim for a “maintenance-free” tree unless you plan to turn your yard into a natural forest. Consider leaf dropping, fruit dropping, and the span of the surface roots. Maybe planning an island of natural mulch around your tree—or around a collection of trees—will avoid some of that raking and mowing.
Among trees that fit your site, which do you like best? This can be as fun as shopping for a new outfit. Use tree guidebooks or the database of trees at gardening.ces.ncsu.edu. The NC Forest Service and Arbor Day Foundation are also good resources. Visit a city or state park to observe the beautiful structure of our deciduous trees in winter.
Come to the Pitt County Arboretum where our Certified Plant Professional collection of trees and woody shrubs provide great tree ideas.
Written by: Vicki Kennedy, Extension Master Gardener volunteer