The fall tree planting season is coming to an end. Some great trees were planted and some not so great trees were planted.
Why do we plant the wrong trees and how do we know right from wrong? I’ll define wrong trees as those with less desirable characteristics, prone to serious disease, insect or other issues, or overplanted trees.
Some of it is location. A great tree may be selected but planted in the wrong location for its size, other characteristics or growing needs. In which case the tree turns into a problem or never grows well.
Here are some reasons the wrong trees are planted. We want fast growing trees. A tree is selected only for its flowers or fall color. We buy and plant large trees assuming they’ll grow larger quicker than starting with a smaller tree. We want trees that have no messy seeds.
We look around and what we see a lot of we assume are good trees. After all, we want to plant something tried and true, right? Often, we don’t stop to consider the mature size of a tree or what its ideal growing environment is.
Does any of this sound familiar? These may all seem like good criteria for tree selection; and why not start with a larger tree? However, using these criteria can lead to planting the wrong tree.
I understand wanting a fast growing tree, but know that trees with very fast growth rates, such as silver and red maple, tend to be weaker wooded trees and more prone to damage in wind and ice storms.
And while some trees are slower growing, we might be surprised how fast a quality tree, like an oak, grows if we give it a good start. By that I mean not starting with a large of tree that has been grown in a plastic container for so long that the tree is root bound.
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Research has shown smaller trees, seedlings up to about six foot tall just as a general rule, will catch up and surpass larger trees. Smaller trees experience less transplant shock and their roots are less likely to be root bound.
Another key is not planting too deep. Too deep of planting leads to slower growth throughout a trees life, an increase in trunk girdling roots, pest issues and a shorter life span.
There is nothing wrong with selecting a tree for flowers or fall color, but don’t use these as the only criteria. Check to see the tree is adapted to the growing environment of the site, is not known to be weak wooded, does not have any serious disease, insect or other issues, and is not overplanted.
What’s wrong with planting tried and true trees? All I need to do is mention American elm, and now, ash. Overplanted species tend to develop pest problems; or, when an invasive species like emerald ash borer arrives, there is greater impact on communities when a large percentage of their trees are only a few species. A characteristics we should all use is diversity and trying not to select trees already overplanted.
Seeds/fruits being messy or interesting is in the eye of the beholder. But don’t avoid a great tree just because there might be a couple of weeks of seeds or fruits that may need to be raked. And know that seedless trees are often trees with only male flowers, hence they are pollen producers. Just a thought if you are allergic to tree pollen.
Trees provide many benefits. Shade, air pollution and stormwater mitigation, increased property values, and connections to nature just to mention a few. And they can take years to grow full size. If we plant the wrong turfgrass or shrub, we can change it in fairly short order. If we plant the wrong tree, it can take years and the loss of many benefits to correct the mistake.
Kelly Feehan is a community environment educator with Nebraska Extension-Platte County.