Cardinal Rules for Planting Trees

Sizes and Sites:  Do not plant large maturing trees near power lines or buildings but at least ten feet away from the latter.  Similarly, another site to avoid is a runway for an airport.  Inevitably, later you would have to top (mutilate) them, an unnecessary waste of time and money.

You will also avoid a fight with the Utilities who may see fit to remove a mature healthy tree to "maintain uninterrupted service".  In the Philadelphia area , fortunately, they are doing a fine job with their 'natural directional pruning'.

In the city, also, consider that trees planted too deep and with less than eight feet between curb and sidewalk tend to crack the sidewalk.  Make sure you know the space required for the roots of the tree to be planted.  (Ref. John Collins, Temple University, Ambler , PA.)

A particular tree that was once commonly seen in open spaces is the Weeping Beech.  Planted in open spaces and left alone, the lower branches will come down, knuckle the ground and then go up again.  Single trees are aesthetically pleasing just as clusters are which have the added benefit of low maintenance costs since they tend to help each other.  And at the edges you could plant wild flowers.

Would you believe that old rotten logs can actually enhance the landscape?  They act as big sponges, provide moisture during dry spells and flowers and ferns planted in them can look very nice.

It is important to check the roots before buying a tree or a shrub.  If only a few roots are crushed prune them straight across with a sharp tool (as if cutting a garden hose).  Do not plant trees with many wounds or damaged branches or with V-crotches.

Remember, You want to prepare a PLANTING SITE , not just a hole.  Form a dish-like area (black arrows), loosen the soil and remove the grass far beyond the drip line.  It will be harmful to do it after the tree has taken roots.  But to repeat, trees and grass don't grow well together.  Leave room for future growth.  Another point to remember is, as studies at the State U. of North Carolina have shown, that there is no need to fertilize at planting time and don't overdose in the future with Nitrogen.  Plant the tree at the depth where the roots are coming off the trunk and not where the burlap is.  Do not prune the crown to balance it with the roots.  Brace only if the tree will not remain upright in a moderate wind.  DO NOT USE WIRE IN A HOSE, but brace with broad, belt-like, flexible material that will not injure the bark as tree grows and sways.  Trees do not move in the sense that they run from danger or threats.  However they are constantly moving in place.  Staking should take this feature into consideration.  Mulch with composted materials about 3-4" thick out to the drip line (blue arrow).  Avoid touching the tree trunk flare with composted materials.  Do not use fresh chips.  Keep the soil moist to the depth of the roots, out to the drip line but not water logged.  Prune symplastless and decaying branches, but wait for the second growing season for shaping and organic fertilization.

John A. Keslick, Jr.
Tree Biologist

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