Thursday, August 21, 2014

Triumphs and Tragedies - Tree Planting

When we first bought this property there was hardly a tree in sight.  When I looked at our space I saw 90% lawn and just a few trees on the edges.  There was no shade, no windbreak, no privacy and nothing to look at.

The early days...

Each spring for the last 4 years we have planted trees in an attempt to change those conditions.  We started with mostly native trees.  They were easy to dig out of ditches which saved us money.  They are also better adapted to our environment so there's less chance they will be troubled by pests or weather conditions.  I also like that they play host to many insects and birds.

In the spring of 2010 I planted this white pine.  It was a foot tall then.


White Pine is native to this area and well adapted to all that nature can throw at it.  Four years later my white pine looks like this.

from one foot to 8 feet in 4 short years
I'll count this as a triumph.  That's one happy tree.

Although I like native trees I think a few ornamental trees contrast nicely and make for an interesting landscape.  The last two years I have started purchasing ornamental trees to fill out our landscape.  When shopping at nurseries one should always trust their instincts.  I know this but amazingly I often disregard this advice and always live to regret it. 

Last spring I took myself to a nursery that was selling trees that were a bit optimistic for our climate.  I knew that wasn't a good sign but I ignored it.  The trees were cheap and I was game.  I also disregarded the fact that some of these trees had suffered frost damage.  I was told they would be fine.  They were not.  A tulip poplar with frozen buds never recovered.  Let this be a lesson to all of you.  If you think something isn't right, ask questions.  If you still has some reservations, walk away.  


Not all the trees died.  Some, like this Copper Beech were not incredibly healthy but they survived.  In this photo the leaves were curling up and starting to die back.  I found when I took the tree out of its pot that there was very little root mass to support such a large tree.  The top two thirds of the tree have now died but new leaves sprouted from the bottom portion of the tree and with some pruning it will eventually grow into a proper tree.

Lesson learned.  Get to know your  nurseries.  Good nurseries aren't cheap.  They have a long track record.  Staff are knowledgable, they know what will grow in your climate.  They offer warranties.  and for goodness sake, if your warning bells start going off don't ignore them. (I'm speaking to myself here!)

Even if you buy trees from a good nursery there are lessons to be learned.  I also bought a native Pagoda Dogwood from MacPhail Nursery last year.  MacPhail has outstanding staff, quality plants and good prices.  I have shopped there for 4 years now and never been disapointed.  But I need to hold up my end of the bargain.

My Dogwood was 6 feet tall with great spreading branches when I bought it.  It leafed out, bloomed and I was smitten.  It would be a fantastic tree if I had bothered to water it.  You see, I failed to take into account that the larger the tree the more water is required.  Newly planted trees should receive at least one inch of water per week for the first season.  A common formula used to measure the amount of water necessary is 10 gallons (38 liters) per week for every inch of tree caliper.   That is a lot of water.  I did water my tree but not nearly that much.  I was used to watering 1 foot tall trees and I didn't think to give the big one more.  Now my tree looks like this.

My, now dead, Dogwood
That's right, it's dead.  I have been dreading owning up to this.  I tend to walk as far away from that tree as possible when I go around the garden.  I'm embarrassed because I screwed up big time.  Water your trees folks.  The bigger the tree the more water it needs. 

I am trying very hard to remember that lesson these days.  You see we bought more trees this year.  Jody insisted on big ones.  He's tired of waiting for wee trees to grow into small trees (no chance of them growing into big trees so quick).  So we purchased two 9 foot tall trees and shoved them into the station wagon.  (*note for future reference, 9 foot tall trees can fit into a Ford Wagon... though it's a bit crowded).  A Glenleven Linden, and an Ivory Silk Lilac Tree now grace the front lawn.

A Linden on the left and Lilac tree on the right
 We also purchased 5 foot tall Yews and a Yellow Bird Magnolia.

Yellow Bird Magnolia
Big trees are costly so hopefully I have learned my lesson.  Get out your buckets and get watering!!