Planting a Tree
September 21, 2021
“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”
Thank you, Joyce Kilmer. You were right. There’s nothing so beautiful as a tree in full foliage, showing off its color against an Oklahoma summer sky in an Ideal Homes & Neighborhoods community. And thanks to Mother Nature, there’s a tree to fit everyone’s wants and needs; it’s just a matter of finding the right tree for you and your space.
Your new Ideal home comes with some landscaping already in place, but maybe you’d like a tree or two for shade a few years down the road. Additional landscaping can go a long way to add value to your home, too. But which tree to choose? There are so many varieties that grow in all shapes and sizes and soils. Here are some tips to help you with a successful planting you’ll enjoy for years to come.
Many trees can weather Oklahoma’s hot summers and cold winters but choosing the right one can be daunting. It’s a good thing your friends at Oklahoma State University’s agriculture and landscape department are here to help. Each year since 1999, OSU faculty compiles the “Oklahoma Proven” list, giving readers a “best of plant” snapshot that includes a tree, shrub, perennial and annual that is well adapted for use across Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Proven list is available online at OklahomaProven.org, and previous years’ selections are easily accessed. “The Oklahoma Proven list is a great resource for anyone interested in adding a tree or trees to their property,” says Bob Martin, owner of Martinbird Tree Farm in Tuttle, Oklahoma. “It’s a great place to start your research for the right tree for your yard.”
How close is too close?
As you’re searching for that perfect tree, keep in mind the space where you want to plant to decorate your Ideal yard. “Some trees grow quickly in just a few years to 30 or 40 feet and taller, while others mature at a much slower rate,” says Martin. “Be sure to consider the growth habits of the tree before settling on a specific variety.” Planting a tree that will grow easily to 30 or 40 feet right next to your house, for example, is a big mistake. It may not be a problem for a year or two, but the expanding root system can wreak havoc with foundations and underground lines and pipes, not to mention limbs rubbing against it can easily damage a roof. If you want to plant close to the house, a shrub or small columnar tree, like a blue atlas cedar, is probably a better option.
The trees and plants on the Oklahoma Proven list should fare well in Oklahoma weather and are drought tolerant. A good landscape design should include both deciduous (trees that lose their leaves in winter) and conifers (trees that keep their leaves all year). Soil composition also plays a big part in withstanding a dry summer. Nurseries will have information on the trees they sell and how drought tolerant they are, so be sure to consult with the nursery where you purchase your tree.
Soil is more than just dirt
Check your soil and drainage before planting. Most trees do better in a well-drained loamy soil. Poorly drained clay or drought sand will limit tree growth or require modification at planting time to help the tree survive.
The best time to plant new trees is when they are dormant; deciduous trees will have lost their leaves, according to Martin. “November through March are ideal for planting. You can plant in other months, but never in the extreme heat,” he continues. This gives the root system a boost before the summer growth season and avoids stress to your new plant.
- If soil is likely to be frozen at planting time, dig the hole early and mulch to keep the soil unfrozen.
- Dig a large planting hole – as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.
- Prune the tree sparingly. Remove only broken, dead or diseased limbs. Otherwise, leave them alone until after their first growing season.
- Prepare the hole and soil. While some transplanted trees may benefit from an application of plant food, it’s generally best not to use fertilizer until the plant is well established – at least a year.
- Place the tree at proper height. Remove string from the root ball and place the tree in the hole so that the top of the root ball is slightly above the surrounding soil.
- Fill the hole with water and pack the soil gently but firmly to hold the tree in place and eliminate air pockets.
- Trees planted in open areas prone to high winds may require staking for the first year. Carefully stake the tree if necessary, using a broad, soft strapping material and padded wire. The stakes should be tied loosely to the trunk; don’t lash it too tight so the trunk can’t flex in the wind.
- Mulch the base of the tree. Add a 2”–3” layer of mulch over the planting area to conserve moisture and protect from heat and cold.
- Trees need at least 1” of water per week, and Martin suggests watering twice a week. “Water slowly, allowing the water to soak the entire root system,” he says. “As a general rule, don’t keep the soil saturated. Allow the soil to somewhat dry out between waterings. If your soil is clay, you’ll use less water because clay holds water; if your soil is a sandy loam, you’ll water longer and more often because water runs right through sand,” Martin concludes. Evergreen trees need water throughout the winter as well as the summer, but don’t overwater!
Follow-up maintenance of newly planted trees is important for your tree to survive. Being proactive and monitoring your tree for any changes is the best way to keep a plant in tip-top shape.