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Planting for the Future
by Dawn Seymour - posted 07/03/18

This pine has been reprimanded over the years to conform to the elements where it lives. Branching short and stiff, trunk curved and needles clinging as if refusing to fall to the floor below littered with evidence of life gone on before.

An intimate part of the human race is connected to the existence of trees. We track our lineage with a “Family Tree.” We reference our health and well-being with the “Tree of Life” and the very first man and woman on earth ate the forbidden fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge” in the Garden of Eden.

Trees are a mark of history. We look at the number of rings to determine the age of a tree. We look at the characteristics of the rings, such as how thick or thin they are, their color and other attributes to determine the types of years that have affected the growth of the trees and other living organisms. We can see drought, earthquakes, forest fires, fast or slow growth, pressure points from another tree, damage from construction and so forth reflected in the historical replication of the rings. They even clean the air and water for us without as much as a rustle. There are songs written about them, people and treasure buried near them and a cherry tree has even led the juvenile tirades of a President.

The installation of trees in the landscape gives height, color, food, shelter, sometimes fragrance, structure, shade, a cooling effect for our homes, a place to hang a swing and a sense of permanence. Some people plant trees to mark an anniversary, or a holiday, or even the birth of a child and it is done as a ritual as well as an act of hope that generations to come will know the “specialness” of that particular tree. When we are looking to plant a tree we should look at it as a permanent structure and make the best choice for that particular variety.

What gives us the right to take for granted the growth and future of one of these magnificent creations? I am always dismayed when someone refuses to acknowledge the proper way to add a tree to their landscape and instead gives an indifferent shrug and says, “It won’t be my problem! Let the next guy worry about it.” So, let’s look at some key points for choosing the right tree for the right location.


How much room is there for a tree? Know the height and width.

Does anything interfere with the installation of a tree? Look for potential issues with power lines, septic systems, foundations, sidewalks, driveways and other trees.

Ask yourself “What do I want a tree for?” Is it for food, a wind break, shade, decoration, flowers or structure?

Ask yourself “What type of growing area do I have for a tree?” For example, is the area boggy, dry, rocky, clay, loam, sheltered, exposed, sunny, shady, windy?

This oak is beautiful in any season, but without the leaves there is clear evidence that it has been maintained intelligently through the years. This tree was lovingly developed around without interrupting its existence.


Do some research. Go and look at the tree you think you want to install in a proper application so you have a good grasp on what this tree will grow up to be. It is difficult to look at a 10 gallon tree at a garden center and picture it 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide. A great place to look at trees as they mature would be an arboretum. They place trees in locations that are nurturing and that allow that tree to grow into what it is supposed to be. Often they have planted them several years previously and it will give you a great idea what that tree will look like in 25 or 30 years. The research will also help you decide exactly what variety of tree you want so you won’t deviate from your choice unless the alternative is comparable.

Set a budget. How much do you want to spend on a tree? The larger the tree you start with, often the more it will cost. However, ornamental trees can be very small in comparison to a woodland type tree and be three times the price. That has lots to do with how long it takes for a variety to reach the size it currently is and how much maintenance goes into growing it.

Get professional assistance. Ask a garden designer or garden center employee to help you select the best tree. Each variety has different characteristics of growth that will ensure a strong end result. Maples should have upright, rounded branching and a straight trunk, for example, whereas a Japanese maple may have slight curvature in the trunk and more lateral, open branching. Make sure the tree is not loose in the container or that the root ball is broken apart.

These pears were placed with good forethought. There is plenty of space for them to grow to maturity and they grace the entrance of this home without overwhelming it.


Notice how the unscrupulous stripping of the branches on this tree have caused uneven growth as the weight of the tree falls heavily to one side.

Dig the hole 2 ½ times larger than the root ball or container and mix in 1 part compost, 1 part peat moss, and 2 parts original soil. This creates a healthy space for your tree to grow in with loose soil and nutrients.

Water the tree in well. There are Treegator® watering bags that you can purchase that hold 15 to 25 gallons of water and have little weep holes which the water slowly escapes through. This waters the tree deeply without you having to stand there with a hose for an hour or carry buckets back and forth.

Mulch well. Mulching does not mean having a perfect circle around the tree but rather covering the virgin dirt with grass clippings, wood chips, sod or other materials (depending on the location of the tree installation, of course. We don’t want sod in the flower beds after all.)

Only stake if necessary. If your new tree is in a location that gets prevailing winds, stake the tree loosely so that it won’t blow down but it has a little room to move to establish “standing on its own two feet.” Do not leave any stakes attached to the tree that may have come with it as those are usually only there for shipping purposes.

A well placed tree will dress up even the simplest abode or make secret a favorite spot. Responsible tree ownership is part of taking care of the space we’ve been given. Select your trees carefully, install them responsibly and enjoy them enthusiastically.

A version of this article appeared in a July 2012 State-by-State Gardening eNewsletter
Photography courtesy of Dawn Seymour.


Dawn Seymour is a garden writer, freelance photographer and garden coach in the greater Columbus area.