Cold weather and short days leaves us little to do when it comes to working in the yard or landscape. Other than the occasional mowing, watering or mulching, there’s not much yard work to get us out of the house and take our mind off our troubles. However, there is one thing we can do now — how about planting a tree for future generations?
There are many excellent trees adapted to our area. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages. But we should always plant the right tree, the right way, in the right place at the right time of year. And this is the right time of year for most trees.
First, determine the characteristics you desire in a tree. Should it be evergreen or deciduous? Do you need a fast-growing tree? What is the mature size you want it to reach? Do you want it to produce flowers and/or fruit?
Second, start looking for native and adapted trees to our area that meet most or all of your needs. Some of the best shade trees for Somervell County include pecans, live oak, cedar elm, bur oak, chinquapin oak, Lacey Oak and the Chinese pistache. For smaller ornamental trees that may also provide flowers or fruits, you might consider crape myrtle, yaupon holly, Texas mountain laurel or the Dessert Willow, Bird of Paradise, Bradford Pear, fruit or pecan trees.
Dig your hole two to three times the width of the tree’s root ball (container) and the same depth as the existing root mass so that the soil level remains the same. Planting trees too deep will encourage disease and insect problems. Planting too shallow may result in the root ball drying out and exposed roots near the base of the tree as it matures.
Once the tree is in place, backfill the hole around your new tree with native soil that has been broken up and is crumbly. Do not amend the soil going back into the hole. Research has shown that improper addition of these materials may actually inhibit root expansion to the surrounding soil. Therefore, no compost, peat moss or shredded pine bark should be added to the backfill.
After the tree is planted, make sure you water the soil well. Making a small four-inch earthen dam around the tree will create a temporary well around it to hold in the water. Water the tree in by filling the bermed basin with water. This will settle the existing soil around the root ball.
The first week after planting, lightly water the tree every day. The second week, water every other day lightly. During week three, water every third day lightly. Week four and beyond, water once a week if needed. The goal is to wean the tree slowly off of supplemental irrigation and get the root system large enough for the tree to thrive on natural rainfall.
Remember, these are just guidelines. Check the soil moisture under the mulch before each watering. More plants are killed by over-watering than by under-watering. The walls of the tree well should be knocked down after the first year to encourage the roots to move further away from the original root ball.
Also make sure you apply three to four inches of mulch around the tree to hold in water and reduce weed competition around the new tree. However, be careful not to let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree.
One of the most common mistakes is misplacement. Homeowners usually think about the size of the tree when it is planted instead of its mature size. The results are trees that crowd houses, destroy roofs, crack foundations and sidewalks, clog sewer lines and rub against utility lines. The solution to these problems is either severe pruning or removal.
Such drastic measures can be prevented if homeowners would simply think before planting them about the space that a tree needs to mature. Small trees should be at least 10 feet way from structures and large shade trees need a minimum of 15 feet, but greater distances are preferred. Also, avoid planting large trees under power lines.
The best planting season for trees is between October and March, depending on the tree type. The milder temperatures and increased precipitation will allow trees to begin establishment before our hot, dry summer kicks in.
For more information on recommended trees, go to http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.eduor contact the county extension agent at 897-2809.