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When my children were small, I planted trees and shrubs to mark the special days of our lives. As I mow around the maples in the lower pasture, or spread mulch around roses, I remember family births, First Communions and other significant days with joy.
Arbor Day is April 27th this year. Why not plant a tree in honor of an occasion, or a special person in your life? I’ve planted two Japanese maples this spring, and I’m using them to remember my twenty-third wedding anniversary and my daughter’s first year of college at my alma mater. I couldn’t be more happy or proud.
When you pick out a tree, consider where to place it. Make sure you’re planting away from power lines and other obstructions. Also, consider the tree’s final size, and its growing requirements. There are some trees which don’t mind heat, but my favorite small tree, the Japanese maple, with few exceptions, begs for partial shade in the central south. Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Tamukeyama,’ along with A palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ and 'Hogyoku' are three cultivars which can handle more heat and sun. Others like ‘Peaches and Cream’ want to snug up against the East side of my home where they will get a respite from summer glare.
•First, if your tree is in a container, water it to reduce stress.
•Dig a hole two sizes larger than the tree’s root ball. The hole should also be as deep as the container or root ball of the tree for positioning.
•If you have clay soil, dig the hole wide and deep and work lots of organic matter to the hole and backfill, but be sure to plant the tree at the level of the pot. You don’t want to carve out a clay bowl that retains water, but you also don’t want to plant too deep.
•Turn the tree on its side, and bang the side of the pot with your hand to loosen the tree’s roots. Tickle the bottom of the roots with your trowel or your hands if it is a smaller tree. The roots need to know they are out of the pot and allowed to explore their space. Don’t worry if some of the soil falls off into the hole. Just incorporate it. All will be well.
•Place the tree in the hole.
•Mix compost into the backfill soil to get your tree off to a good start. I incorporate crushed leaves and leaf mold into the soil or commercial compost. However, I don’t amend the backfill soil with extra fertilizer because it might “trick” the tree, and its roots won’t expand outside the rich, loosened soil.
•Backfill and tamp the soil around the tree with your foot. Top it off with some organic mulch, but don’t place mulch up against the tree trunk, or create a mulch volcano. Again, I use shredded leaves or cedar, but you can use any type of natural mulch. My state is a giant wind tunnel so I stake trees for about six months, but no longer because strong roots won’t develop.
•Water the tree. If the water reveals a hole, tamp the soil down until the hole disappears. I water my new trees three times at planting to penetrate their roots. During the growing season, make sure it gets an inch of water a week. If you live in the south, don’t forget to water the tree during winter when temperatures are above freezing.
Now is a great time to plant trees. If you plant one in honor of someone you love, leave me a comment on facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear how you made a leafy memory.