With spring just around the corner, people are getting ready to head out to the yard to plant flowers, trees and shrubs. While everyone has good intentions for planting trees, all too often we see the wrong tree in the wrong location.
Right Tree, Right Place – Or Not …
Every year we get tons of calls to prune trees away from houses, sheds and wires. Many of these jobs require us to push the limits of pruning standards and/or remove a perfectly healthy tree because it was planted too close to a building, under utility wires or next to a septic system.
While these trees look great in their sapling stages, they start to encroach on nearby structures within a few years as they grow towards their mature size (which can be as much as 75 feet!). In some cases, simply planting the tree 15 feet further away from objects would have ensured that the tree was fine through its complete growth cycle.
So before you buy a tree, here are the things you need to do and the factors to consider in deciding which tree is best for you and where to plant it.
Do Your Homework
Read up on the tree species you’re looking to plant or ask your nursery for details. Before you even buy the tree, make sure you know the following:
- Mature Size – When it’s fully grown, what is the tree’s height, diameter or spread, and shape?
- Growth Rate – Many people want a fast growing tree but be careful since they are prone to insects, disease and decay. Fast growing trees also have shorter lifespans.
- Does the tree fruit? – You might not want the dirty mess from fruit falling on walkways and driveways.
- Hardiness Zone – In CT we have zones 6b, 6a and 5b so make sure the tree is hardy to those zones or lower (e.g., zones 4 and 3).
- Soil – Most trees need a certain type of soil (e.g., sand, loam, clay) and pH level to thrive.
- Sun Exposure – Should the tree be planted in full sun, full shade, or a bit of both?
- Moisture Requirements – Be sure to meet the moisture requirements with either an irrigation drip line or water bag system, especially as we head into summer. If you have no easy way to water a tree that requires a fair bit of moisture, look for a different tree.
Get a Soil Sample
It’s recommended that you do a soil sample where you want to put your trees. This will tell you if your soil is compatible with your tree selection and whether any soil amendments are required. Poor soil conditions contribute to 75% of tree health issues.
Here in Connecticut you can get your soil tested inexpensively through the UConn Soil Testing Laboratory.
Look For Potential Damage
Will your proposed planting location lead to a tree that causes damage, especially in 20 years from now? Consider how the mature tree will look and where it will grow. Below are some of the things to think about:
- Cracked foundations
- Tree limbs touching the house, which can cause rubbing damage, gutters full of debris, and rodents gaining access to attics.
- Heavy shade over the house, which leads to moss, mildew and wood siding decay.
- Sewer lines or septic clogging with roots
- Storm damage to your house, cars or utility wires
- Blocking a scenic view
- Cracked pavement or sidewalks
- Dropping of seeds or fruit, leading to slippery or dirty walkways, driveways, decks, etc.
Plant the Proper Distance From Your House
The recommended spacing from a mature sized tree to a building is 8-foot minimum for small trees and 20 feet for large trees.
So, for example, if you’re planting an oak sapling (which will eventually become a very large tree with a 50-foot spread – or 25 feet out from the trunk) you should plant the tree a minimum of 45 feet from a building (25 feet of tree branches plus 20 feet spacing). Keep in mind that this is a MINIMUM value.
Consider Overhead Utility Wires
Before planting, look up! Is the mature height and spread of the tree going to encroach on your wires? If it does, the utility company will top your trees or cut a large notch out of it later. That’s not a pretty sight and is detrimental to the tree’s health. Not to mention there is now a tree that can rip down your wires in a storm.
Be Wary of “Dwarf” Trees
We’ve seen lots of so called dwarf trees grow much larger than specified. I would make sure you’re dealing with a quality nursery so you can have higher confidence that the dwarf trees really are dwarf. Reputable nurseries sometimes cost a little more but the quality and the fact that they have horticulturists on staff that can guide you is invaluable. Plus, most nurseries guarantee their tree stock.
Look for the Sun
Consider the path of the sun in your planting layout. Depending on the sun’s location, trees will cast a shadow on your house. This can be great for controlling summer AC costs but if there’s too much shade (such as with a very dense tree or too many trees) you might have moss issues on the roof and possible siding decay.
Think About Maintenance
Determine if your location might require a pruning regimen to maintain the tree at a certain size or form. It’s always better for tree health and visual appeal to be proactive.
Prune every 1-2 years to maintain the tree to your requirements instead of going in after the tree is overgrown and having to structurally prune it back. If you’re not prepared to do this kind of maintenance pruning, consider buying a different type of tree.
Buy Healthy Trees
Lastly, when purchasing your trees don’t buy problem trees. Avoid trees with wounds and damage to the trunk (this is often caused by machine handling in the nursery).
Also, depending on the species, you generally want one single trunk – avoid co-dominant trunks (you will see a ‘V ‘with two almost equal sized stems going upward rather than one trunk). These are very prone to splitting during storms. While a tree is young you can prune it for shape (including removing a co-dominant stem) but it’s best to avoid defects or poor shape at the point of purchase. Again, this is where a reputable nursery will steer you in the right direction.
Ready to Plant?
Use the above info to determine how your selections will fit into your location. And think 20 to 30 years out.
All to often, we see good intentions of planting a tree executed very poorly and it leads to decline or death of the tree. Please refer to How to Plant a Tree so to not kill your new landscape plantings.
If you currently have trees that you think might be too close to infrastructure there are possibilities to transplant and move the tree depending on size, health and location. Call Barts Tree Service and we can assess the situation for you and lay out any options.
If you would like a licensed and certified arborist to assist you with recommendations and any layout possibilities for your site, just give us a call.