What could be simpler right planting a tree is as simple as digging a hole and plopping it in the ground. Well as someone who is out there both professionally and personally on the front lines of tree planting, I can tell you that you are mistaken.
Planting a tree can be that simple but, in many cases, it is way more complicated than you think. Because when you are planting a tree you aren’t just sticking a tree in the ground you are adding a long-term fixture in the landscape that will have impacts and repercussions long after you are gone from the scene. I will be approaching this issue from the perspective of planting a tree in an urban or community setting. That is because planting a tree in town comes with a set of issues that are not a problem in a more rural setting so I will focus on those issues here.
Planting a tree in town
When you plant a tree in an urban setting there are many factors to consider and I will go into a bit of detail on them in a bit but first a summary list,
· Location of the planting
· Purpose of the tree
· Other factors
Location of the planting
The spot that the tree will go is probably the least understood and least appreciated aspect of planting a tree. The average person out there is under the impression that any spot is as good as another when it comes to planting a tree.
The average person is wrong
Where you put the tree is perhaps the most important decision you will make when it comes to planting a tree and you must consider as many of the factors you can wrap your brain around. For example,
· Planting the tree in a street right of way
· Planting in front lawn
· Soil type
· Location of other things like sidewalks driveways, your house, and underground utilities
That list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a good starting point and I will go into each of them with more detail now.
One of the most common places to plant a tree in an urban setting is in the right of way or the space between the curb and the sidewalk. These come in many widths from nonexistent dozens of feet wide depending on your location. They are also subject to a variety of rules that may limit or outright prevent the planting of trees so make sure to check before you plant.
If you want to plant in a right of way you need to consider the following,
You should not plant in space that is too narrow (ie less than 5ft). Planting in narrow right of ways is how you get damaged roads and lifted sidewalks which are the most common complaints about street trees.
Right of ways are commonly used to route underground utilities which will eventually need maintenance. A tree is a long lived organism and its roots are quite vulnerable to being damaged during any underground utility work that is done. If a tree loses too many of its roots it can kill a tree outright or cause a slow decline. Both will require a tree to be removed long before its time and potentially great expense to the homeowner.
You also must consider overhead utilities as well. Utility companies have their own right of ways and any trees that stray into that overhead space can be pruned in a dramatic and disfiguring way.
In the Yard
Planting a tree in the front or backyards are usually the best and easiest places to plant trees with the least amount of hassle. You typically don't have the space issues you get in the right of ways and the utility issues are reduced but not eliminated. But when you plant in your yard you have some other issues to consider like roof overhang, wanted or unwanted house shading, root damage to water sewer lines, and possibly your house foundation.
Before you have a panic attack, just realize that 95% of these issues can be fixed with proper placement and species selection so they are not deal breakers.
The one thing the tree relies on the most of health and long term stability is the quality and amount of soil available to it to grow. In the wild open spaces of the woods, a tree has virtually unlimited access to soil and water but when you take that same tree and plant it in an urban setting you take that away. Urban trees, even if planted with excellent soil, will at some point run into something that does not allow them to grow farther in that direction. The most common culprits in towns are roads, driveways, house foundations, and any other soil that has been damaged or altered. The soil restrictions fundamentally limit how well a tree can grow in that space and they must be considered when selecting a tree to plant.
Purpose of the tree
Trees in urban areas are planted for many purposes and sometimes more than one. For example, a tree planted on the west side of your home can serve multiple roles like shade from the sun, food production, and aesthetics. Determining the purpose or purposes of the tree is critical in deciding where the tree goes and what species to select. I would always recommend that you find a tree that meets multiple purposes because it will give you more bang for the effort you put into taking care of it.
Selecting a tree species is typically the first thing that people do when they decide to plant a tree. But looking at species first is not the right way to approach the project of planting a tree. You first have to assess the site, determine your wants/needs, and figure out what the real purpose of the planting is. Once you have all that figured out then selecting a tree species has almost done itself because you will have narrowed it down by figuring out what you want from a tree and what kind of space you have for a tree.
For example, you want to plant a single tree on the west side of your house, which is also your front lawn for shade and you would like to have some sort of flower display or fruit production from this tree.
By knowing that you immediately kick out all conifers and most large shade trees. You also said you wanted to plant only one tree. Well, planting only one tree will also knock out some contenders since many fruit trees need at least two trees to put on reliable fruit. With these criteria, you have narrowed your trees down to things like apricots, peaches, and nectarines.
Once you have your shortlist of trees that is when you can dive into the nitty-gritty of each species looking for things that are compatible with your climate and your soils.
There is, of course, many other tiny little things that come into play when planting a tree. The most common one that people tend to miss is local law. Many communities have ordinances on the books that can determine what you are allowed to plant and where it can go. Some trees that are available can be considered pests or invasives and these might be regulated by county or state laws as well.
Another factor that comes into play during this modern internet age is tree availability. Just because you like it and it checks all your boxes doesn’t mean you can get it to you. Buying a tree is typically something done in person and if your local nursery doesn’t have it you are out of luck.
Planting a Tree- It’s easier than it seems
So I have thrown a lot of things at you about what to think about when planting a tree. But when you get right down to it a lot of it is common sense familiar to anyone that does outside work. Most states have resources for you to contact for information or help on how to plant and care for trees in urban settings. So get out there and plant a tree.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.