Mary L. Duryea Resource Extension Specialist University of Florida
After all the structural damage has been repaired and the debris from downed trees removed, homeowners may ask how to regenerate the beauty of their ornamental landscape. Since trees are at the core of any well-landscaped property, it is important to do some planning before visiting the local nursery. Selecting the RIGHT place, planting it the RIGHT way and at the RIGHT time, will not only assure a lifetime of satisfaction, but also will keep maintenance costs low and maximize your investment.
Selecting the right tree
In selecting the RIGHT tree, it is important to know the purpose you have for that tree in the landscape. Whether you are planting for shade, aesthetics, windbreaks, delineating properties, or for wildlife, you need to remember that trees have many different characteristics that will affect their function. A tree’s growth habit and shape need to be considered:
- Mature size is very important. The tree should not outgrow its allotted space.
- Tree forms vary among species as much as leaf shapes and bark patterns.
- Fast growing trees are usually tolerant of difficult sites, but are also usually weak-wooded.
- Wood strength and branching structure are closely allied in determining its ability to withstand wind and ice storms. Trees with well-shaped branches are inherently stronger.
- Some species are known for their invasive and surface roots (willows and cottonwoods).
After selecting the tree characteristics that best suit the functions you are looking for in your landscape, you must consider what environmental factors limit the ability of a particular species to thrive in your area. It is very important to match the planting site’s characteristics with the tree’s growth requirements. These environmental factors include:
- Temperature – Can the tree handle the minimum average annual temperature for your area? Select a species suitable for your USDA plant hardiness zone.
- Moisture – Each species can tolerate wet or dry growing conditions to a different degree
- Light – Know your tree’s shade tolerance (low, medium, or full sunlight).
- Pests – Every area has its problems with a particular insect or disease. Try to avoid species that host these pests.
- Soil – Soil depth, structure, pH (acidity or alkalinity), compaction and drainage can make a difference between success or failure after planting.
Selecting the right place
When selecting the RIGHT place for a tree, remember the tree’s size (height AND crown spread) at maturity to avoid conflicts with both above- ground and belowground permanent structures (buildings, sidewalks, power and phone lines, gas and sewer lines, etc.).
Planting the right way. Planting your trees the RIGHT way will help them become established quicker. It is better to “plant a $10 tree in a $100 hole, then to plant $100 tree in a $10 hole.” Before digging, make sure you have located all underground utilities: SAFETY FIRST!
- Dig a hole 2-3 times the size of the root ball, and only as deep as the root ball. Place the root ball in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with the existing soil line.
- Add soil around the base of the root ball to stabilize it in the hole. Remove string, wire or burlap from the top 10” of the root ball. Make sure tree is standing straight in all directions.
- Finish adding soil (backfill with original soil only), GENTLY pack it until soil is level with existing soil. Create a watering basin around the tree with existing soil, making it 4” high and wider than the planting hole (knock down after one year).
- Use organic material to mulch the entire loosened area, 3-4” deep, but keep it 2-3” away from the trunk to avoid decomposing the bark. Stake only if necessary, making sure to protect the tree bark from rubbing damage by running the supporting wire or rope through a piece of old garden hose, where it is placed around the tree. Do not stake so tightly that tree is not allowed to sway in the wind, and remove stakes after one year.
Water after planting and when necessary. Slow, less frequent and deep watering will encourage roots to grow deeper and protect them from drought. Check moisture levels down to 4” from the existing soil line, and water if dry.
Planting at the right time
Fall is the RIGHT time for planting. Planting in late fall through early spring allows trees to establish new roots before spring rains and summer heat stimulate new growth. Trees need an established root system to keep up with higher water demand in the summer. During the winter dormant season the roots will continue to grow while the top remains inactive.
Buying the RIGHT tree and planting it the RIGHT way in the RIGHT place will reduce the future pruning requirements and ensure that trees are healthy. So, remember to buy quality nursery stock and provide proper care throughout the tree’s life.
What to Look For:
- Even form
- Foliage: good color with no insect damage
- Healthy new leaves
- Strong branch crotches
- Single trunk or leader
- Pruning scars are well sealed
- Healthy well attached bark
- Adequate root space
What to avoid:
- Multiple leaders indicate tree has been topped
- Foliage has pale color and/or has insect damage
- Crossing branches
- Weak crotches (narrow angles)
This document is Circular 1183, one of a series of the School of Forest resources and Conservation, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Published: May, 1997. Reviewed September 2006. Please visit the EDIS Web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
Mary L. Duryea, Ph.D., forest resource extension specialist, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, 32611