The Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District recently held a two-part virtual series entitled, “Growing Healthy Trees,” featuring guest speakers from the Ohio State University Extension, Consolidated Cooperative, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources – Division of Forestry. It’s tree planting time, so here are some pointers shared by our expert speakers.
Before choosing a tree, it is critical to know your soils. A great resource is the Delaware County Master Gardeners website (https://delaware.osu.edu/program-areas/master-gardener-volunteers/soil-testing), which outlines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of soil testing. The Master Gardeners, a program of the Ohio State University Extension – Delaware County, can also help with interpreting test results so you apply only what soil amendments are needed for your new tree.
A good site for a tree has soil that is 45% soil particles, 25% water, 25% air, and 5% organic matter. Organic matter is plant and animal material that is in the process of decomposing and is teeming with microorganisms, which help break down the plant and animal material. You can add organic matter with home or store-bought compost, mulch, leaves or aged manure. Avoid peat moss as it repels moisture and has not been found to be beneficial to tree health.
Trees can be purchased as bare root seedlings, container grown, or ball and burlap.
Consider cost, the amount of sweat equity needed to plant the tree, and transporting the tree to the site. Keep in mind that patience is a virtue when deciding what to buy. A larger tree may have an instant impact on your site; however, it will be quite heavy and unwieldly to maneuver and will likely suffer extended transplant stress that can last a few years. Smaller trees require less digging and less watering but may be more susceptible to mowers and weed whips because they are not as visible as a larger specimen. Keep in mind that deer aren’t picky about tree size, so you may want to invest in fencing, at least for a few years.
When planting, the root collar (where the roots join the main trunk) should sit at or slightly above the soil line. The root collar is part of the tree’s trunk and requires the movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide in and out of the inner bark to survive. It is critical that the hole be two to three times the root ball diameter. The majority of tree roots are located within the top three feet of soil and 80% are in the top 18 inches! Wider, not deeper, is the way to go.
Mulch around your new tree to allow the tree roots to expand without competition from the grass in your lawn. Grass and weeds rob your tree of moisture and nutrients, and some can even produce chemicals that inhibit tree growth. A wide tree ring of mulch helps keep lawn care equipment away from your tree. “Donut mulching” rather than “volcano mulching” is key. Mulch should be spread thinly near the trunk, but not touching the trunk, gradually reaching two to three inches in depth at the outside edge of the ring to achieve the ideal donut effect. Mulch should never be piled against the trunk to look like a volcano, as this can draw rodents and insects, suffocate roots, kill the inner bark, and cause excessive heat as the mulch decays.
And lastly, watering is recommended to supplement what Mother Nature may not provide regularly. Soil should be moist when you dig into it with a garden trowel at a depth of about two inches. If it is dry to the touch, watering is needed. How much and how often will depend on the size of the tree, soil conditions and weather conditions. A 5-gallon bucket with a few holes in the bottom is an efficient way to slowly release the water and give your tree a good soaking. You can also purchase different styles of tree bags to hydrate your tree, which are readily available at garden centers and online.
We plant trees for many reasons: to build soil, release oxygen, increase biodiversity, and help mitigate flooding, sun glare, and harsh winds. A well-planted tree is not only beautiful, but is important to a wide variety of Ohio’s wildlife for food, shelter, and nesting sites. Trees are an investment in the future and provide benefits for many years to come. To give your new tree the best start possible, view the handouts from our “Growing Healthy Trees” series, which will be posted soon at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us.
Additional resources can be found through the USDA Forest Service (https://www.fs.usda.gov/naspf/publications/tree-owners-manual-national-edition) and the International Society of Arboriculture (treesaregood.org). Happy planting!
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.