Planting, Staking and Pruning Deciduous Trees in the Fall
It turns out that trees are even more wonderful than we thought. The Nebraska Forest Service has compiled a list of the environmental, economic, and psychological benefits of trees that would make anyone love trees.
Of course, most people recognize that trees protect the soil, help to keep the air and water clean, and provide valuable shade and windbreaks. Less well known are the economic benefits. For example, the strategic placement of trees near a home can reduce heating and cooling costs by as much as 25%, and increase property values by 15% or greater.
Whether people are in stores, offices, gyms, hospitals, clinics, or nursing homes, they are happier if they can see trees. Children need a few trees to climb to be at their best. Salespersons are more cheerful when there is greenery around, and shoppers spend more at such businesses.
If all this makes you want to plant some trees, don’t hesitate: early fall is prime time for planting deciduous trees, especially if you’re not too far up north. As Jessica Kelling of the ReTree Project explains, “many tree species are able to quickly establish their root systems thanks to fall’s lower temperatures and reduced humidity. This allows young trees to prepare for the upcoming winter and gives them a jump start on spring growth.”
Tree Planting Pointers
There are many excellent Cooperative Extension materials available that will tell you everything you need to know about tree planting in your area. You might also want to watch one of the short tree planting videos that are available on the internet. Both Tree Planting Tips and How To Plant A Tree are pretty good.
You don’t want to begin to plant your trees and then find out that you don't have all the materials to complete the job. So here's a list of what you'll need:
- garden cart
- garden hose
- mulch and/or compost
If your tree came in a container or wrapped in burlap, you’ll also need a utility knife to cut the container or the string around the burlap. Gardening gloves and safety glasses are also a good idea.
The most common mistake beginning tree planters make is to dig a hole too deep or too narrow. A tree should be transplanted at the same depth as the root ball or container it came in. The hole has to be two to three times wider than the root ball or container so that the roots can easily spread into the soil with which you will fill the hole.
Keep in mind that these roots will eventually extend beyond the circumference of the hole, and they could have difficulty doing so if the surrounding soil is very hard. To avoid this, score the sides of the hole to facilitate root entry.
Once the tree is in the ground, it’s critical to water the tree regularly, and giving it mulch and fertilizer is important also. Since we covered these topics in our Fall Tree Care Guide, you might want to review it before you proceed.
Stake Your Trees Only If They Need It
The good news about staking trees is that you probably won’t need to do it. The exceptions are if your tree came with its roots exposed, if its top growth greatly outweighs its root ball, or if it is being planted in a location that is subject to strong winds or other adverse conditions.
Staking a tree when it doesn’t need it actually stunts its growth and makes it more likely to break or fall over. What’s more, many well-intentioned treestakers forget to remove the stakes when the necessary amount of time has elapsed, resulting in additional problems for the tree. Before you stake, educate yourself as to the issues involved by reading this informative article by Chris Beasley.
If you determine that your tree needs to be staked, carefully follow Chris’ guidelines as well as those offered by forester Steve Nix in this article. Once your tree has been staked, mark your calendar so as not to forget to remove the stakes after one growing season, or after the passage of a year, depending on the tree. Generally speaking, no tree should be staked for more than two years.
To simplify the staking process and provide our customers with materials that meet the standards of professional arborists, we carry Lawson Tree Stake Kits. These kits contain all the parts you’ll need to do a first rate job, including rubber support straps that will not damage your trees the way wire or cord sometimes do. They are a snap to take off when the staking process is complete, and, in fact, you can remove them each time you mow and then easily reattach them afterwards.
Pruning Trees When They Are Dormant
Fall is the all-time best time for pruning deciduous trees. Why? Because the cuts you make in your tree when you prune it will be able to heal without complication or interference by critters and disease-bearing fungi. Also, the lack of leaves provides a better view of the tree’s form, making it easier to identify weak branch joints and dead or broken limbs. A successful pruning will do away with any dead wood or other problematic branches or limbs, encourage positive branching patterns, promote balanced air circulation, and open the tree up to receive optimal amounts of sunlight.
As with staking, you need to know what you’re doing when you prune, especially if you are working with oaks or elms. The U.S. Forest Service has produced an excellent 12-page guide that is worth studying before you get out there and start cutting.
You’ll be pleased to know that we stock all of the pruning tools the Forest Service recommends: bypass and anvil pruners for smaller branches, lopping shears for slightly thicker branches, and a long handled tree pruner to get up high. We also have a variety of tree loppers, some of which also have a long reach. For thicker limbs, you'll want to use a limb saw. Chain saws can be used on the thickest limbs, but not if you need to get up on a ladder!
Some good video tutorials on pruning include How to Prune and Trim a Tree with Mike Craft of Lowe’s, and Tree Pruning with HGTV's Paul James.
Some Parting Thoughts About Trees
While you’re busy trying to figure out whether to make that hole a little wider before you put the tree in, or whether to use a lopping shear or a bypass pruner to take down a branch, it’s good to pause for a moment and appreciate that you are being a steward of the earthan earth keeper, to use more modern language.
As our friends at the Arbor Day Foundation will tell you, trees are needed on the planet now more than ever. You are helping to meet that need. Considering the life span of most trees, the trees you plant today may very well provide benefits to future generations. For some people, that’s the most spiritual aspect of tree planting. As Elton Trueblood writes, “A man has made at least a start on discovering the meaning of life when he plants shade trees under which he knows full well he will never sit.”