In real estate, people emphasize “location, location, location.” Believe it or not, location isn’t only important for people. When it comes to trees, location is important, too. Location can mean the difference between a healthy, vigorous tree that provides benefits for many years, or a tree that ekes out a shortened existence. We like to joke in the office that tree planting is easy; green side up! But we know it is much more complex than that, and here are some tips to consider before you buy and plant.
Do you know your soils? The Ohio State University Extension (OSUE) has an excellent publication entitled, “Soil Testing for Ohio Lawns, Landscapes, Fruit Crops, and Vegetable Crops,” available at https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1132. Trees and shrubs have different needs in terms of nutrients and soil pH, and a soil test is the best way to discover all of this vital information. For instance, most conifers prefer soils with a more acidic pH, so if your site is neutral or basic, it may not be the best choice or it may require amendments on an ongoing basis. Our local OSU Extension office at 149 N. Sandusky St. in Delaware offers soil tests at $25 per sample and has staff who can assist with interpreting test results.
Do you know how your soil drains? Many trees and shrubs cannot tolerant wet sites. Soil that is full of water has no room for air and plant roots require oxygen to function. Lack of oxygen results in poor root growth and susceptibility to soil borne diseases. Standing water may be fine for a baldcypress (taxodium distichum), which prefers moist to wet soils and is very flood tolerant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are trees and shrubs that enjoy drier locales, such as eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), which can contract fungal root diseases when grown in wet soil.
Do you know how many hours of sun your selected site will receive? Evaluate your proposed planting site for the level of shade or sun your new tree will receive. Full sun is considered at least six hours a day and full shade is considered two hours or less of direct sun or dappled sun throughout the day.
Do you know your plant hardiness zone? Type in your zip code at https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov to determine which plants are most likely to thrive at your location. Delaware County falls in zone 6a. When shopping for your trees and shrubs, read the label associated with the plant to ensure you pick plants that fit into your zone. This is especially critical for fruit trees, whose yield can be affected by temperatures and late frosts.
Do you know the size and shape of the tree or shrub at maturity? The difference between a mature flowering dogwood (cornus florida) at 15 to 20 feet in height compared to a mature red oak (quercus rubra) at 60 to 75 feet is significant. Some mature arborvitaes (thuga occidentalis) only spread to about three feet in width compared to a mature sugar maple (acer saccharum), which can have a crown spread of up to 50 feet. By knowing the mature size of your tree, you can avoid debris falling on the roof and in the gutters of your home, as well as avoid roots interfering with your foundation, sidewalk, and driveway.
Do you know the location of all the aboveground and underground utilities? Electric, gas, water, and telecommunications lines should be identified. OHIO811 is a free utility locating service at 800-362-2764 or oups.org/homeowners/. Remember to always call before you dig – it’s the law! If your house has a well and/or a home sewage treatment system, those areas should be avoided as well.
Lastly, what do you want to accomplish with your tree or shrub? Energy efficiency, beautification, wildlife habitat, fruit or nut production, shading, privacy, and noise reduction are many reasons for adding trees and shrubs to your landscape. Preparation is key.
To help you find the right tree or shrub for the right place, check out the handouts and recordings from our “Growing Healthy Trees” seminars at soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us, as well as treesaregood.org by the International Society of Arboriculture, and the Division of Forestry’s Common Trees of Ohio at forestry.ohiodnr.gov.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/.