“OMYGOSH! Look at these trees!”
That’s a common exclamation of many clients when Linda and I take them into our older neighborhoods. Mature trees strike a responsive chord in our hearts, evoking feelings of nostalgia, family get-togethers, tree houses, tire swings (and skinned knees), and dozens of other images.
And, on a crasser note, they help resale value of a house: On average, good landscaping can add five to seven percent to the value of a property, and trees figure prominently in that equation.
Many people wish they could have nice, mature trees on their property. Problem is, trees are not an instant gratification thing. It hurts us to admit it, but that’s what we’re used to. But the hard, cold fact is this: A grand, majestic tree is nothing more than a sapling with time (and a little luck) added to it. There is no shortcut to the time element, but the smart arborist can increase a tree’s chances of survival by using a little common sense. That, and some help from people who know trees.
And with that, we arrive at this week’s blog topic. Help with planting trees.
There are obviously many places to start. Here’s a free, easy one: a pamphlet entitled “Putting Down Roots” (Second Edition). It’s put out by the City of Oklahoma City. The pamphlet is available online (link below) or at almost all branches of the Metropolitan Library System. The principal author is listed as Aubrey Hammontree, Senior Planner at the city’s Planning Department. She is joined by a list of other authors and contributors that reads like a who’s who of Oklahoma plant experts.
It’s worth a read. It starts with the basics: know the characteristics of where you’re planting (climatology stuff: average temperatures, rainfall, etc.). Personally, I am always a little amused by these sections: Based on my almost six decades of existence in Oklahoma, there are more extremes than averages. To paraphrase an old law professor of mine: If you’re standing with one foot in boiling water and the other in ice water, your feet may, on the whole, be at a comfortable average – but I doubt that’s what you’re thinking at that particular moment. Still, it does serve as a starting point that is a good topic of conversation at any social gathering in Oklahoma.
After you’ve had your climatology lesson for the day, look at the other sections: Designing the site. This deals with lot position, distances from each other and from other objects, etc.
Then there’s choosing a tree. The pamphlet lists and analyzes over 50 varieties of deciduous and around 20 varieties of evergreen trees. And by the way: some varieties are listed as “Oklahoma Proven!” That’s a designation borrowed from an OSU program which indicates trees that have been time-tested and have stood up to our not-so-average climate.
Then, of course, there’s planting a tree. This section covers when to plant; what materials to use; and how to use them. And here, permit me to add a personal rule of thumb for planting trees – or any other plant, for that matter. It was repeated to me by my elders when I was growing up: It’s better to plant a $5.00 tree in a $50.00 hole than to plant a $50.00 tree in a $5.00 hole. Of course, I grew up in the Panhandle, so didn’t have a lot of opportunities to test this maxim; but it made sense to me, and still does.
Last, there’s caring for the tree. This deals with how much water to use; how much mulch to use; common problems; fertilizers; pruning and general maintenance.
So there you have it: a brief summary of a 135-page pamphlet. As I said, it’s worth a read. Even if you’re like me and have 10 brown thumbs instead of one green one, you will most likely learn something. And that’s something we all should do more often.