Trees 101

When choosing to plant a tree, you are choosing to plant a legacy. Trees are the largest and longest living plants on the planet. While the forests of the world are magnificent in scale, a tree planted in your yard can be quite personal and accomplish several different goals within a landscape. The following guide will go over some timeless principals when choosing and planting a tree.

Where to plant

Like all plants, trees thrive when they have access to correct amount of sun, water, and nutrients. This varies depending on the tree. Hang tags on the tree will let you know the requirements of that specific tree. Some trees are more adaptable than others. Hackberry, oaks, and some maple trees are hardy, adaptable options.

Be sure to give your tree plenty of room to spread its branches AND roots. Consider the mature height of a tree when choosing a planting location. It may fit the space now but moving a tree after it’s been planted is costly and can kill the tree, if even possible.

Amount of Sun – Some trees grow best in the shade of a full forest canopy and others grow best in full sun. A tree with a tag that says “Full Sun” typically needs at least 6 hours of sunlight to the soil around the tree. A tree with a tag that says “Partial Sun” or “Partial Shade” will need 3-6 hours of sunlight. A tree that says “Full Shade” is one that can grow under the canopy of other trees or in a spot that gets little to no sun. You will want to measure the amount of sun in a spot in your yard when you go into the nursery to select a tree.

Amount of Water – Typically, well-drained soil is best for most trees, rather than having poorly drained or dry soils. You will want to know the soil type in your yard before selecting a tree. If your yard typically stays wet several days after a rain, then there is a chance that it is not well drained due to high clay content. If your yard is powder-dry even a day after a rain, then there is a chance you have high sand content. You should choose a tree whose tag matches the site in your yard. Some trees like the hybrid maples or elms are good to grow in nearly any soil conditions.

Plant with a purpose

When you are choosing to plant a tree, you are likely trying to accomplish something specific. It could be that you are wanting shade for your yard or your house. Or maybe you are wanting to visually screen the neighbor’s house or provide a noise barrier from a busy road. Whatever the reason, you should select a tree that can do what you want.

Visual and noise screening typically involves evergreens that can provide the desired screening in all seasons of the year. Arborvitae, Spruce, and White Pine are commonly used for screening.

Planting for shade typically involves taller trees planted toward the southwest side of the area to be shaded. Birch, Elm, Maples, and Oak are good options when shade is the goal.

How to plant

Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball and just deep enough that the base of the trunk is slightly above ground. The biggest mistake in establishing trees is planting too deep where some of the stem is buried. It is very important at the time of planting that all soil is removed above the first main roots that flare out where the stem meets the roots.

Next, be sure that all the roots on the outside of the root ball are growing radially from the stem instead of in an encircling pattern. For rootbound trees, cut off outer edges of the root ball to loosen the roots.

Place the tree in the hole and backfill slowly making sure the tree is straight and there are no air pockets in the soil.

Secure the tree with bracing that consists of 2-3 posts that are at least half the height of the tree and then tying the stem of the tree to the posts with 1” nylon webbing. This will ensure the tree is secure and grows straight.

Once the tree is in place, water slowly and generously before spreading a 2-4 inch layer of mulch around the trunk in a 3’ diameter. Keep mulch away from the base of the tree.

A rule of thumb for watering trees is to sprinkle an equivalent of 1” of rainwater on the soil surrounding the tree no more than 1 time per week.

There is no need for fertilizer with a new tree from Sargent’s. In fact, such products can harm your tree. Starting with year two, you can use a slow release, granular fertilizer.

Pruning a new tree should take place within the first two years. For pruning advice, see our guide on tree pruning.

What to Plant

There are so many wonderful trees that may suit your project area. The best advice we can give is to stop into a Sargent’s Garden Center and speak with a tree expert. Beyond that, here are a few trees to provide inspiration as you begin your search.

Hackberry is a great native tree that gets 50 to 70 feet tall and has a beautiful, broad canopy.

Ohio Buckeye is an understory tree that can grow in the shade of other trees. It gets 30 to 40 feet tall and is the first to leaf out each spring.

Norway Spruce is an Evergreen that gets 50 to 70 feet tall and has beautiful, drooping branches as it matures. It is great as a wind and sound break or to create privacy.

Japanese Lilac Tree is a hardy, full-sun tree that has beautiful white flowers in the spring. It gets about 20 to 30 feet tall and grows well in most soils.

Autumn Blaze is a hybrid maple that can handle most soils and is very hardy. Vibrant fall colors and a mature height of 40-50 feet make this a great shade tree.