Now is the Time to Plant Shade Trees

Jeremy Hebert  |  11/17/2011 1:20:19 AM

With the winter season looming, now is the time to start planning, preparing and planting those shade trees. As our temperatures cool here in southwest Louisiana, this is the perfect time for trees to be planted because the large majority of the trees will be going dormant for the winter and our soils are still warm enough to encourage good root development. Planting in the late fall and through the winter months allows the trees to get established before the 90 degree temperatures hit in August and take a toll on our landscapes.

Watering is very crucial to newly planted trees. Not only do the late fall and winter months provide a dormancy period for trees, they also provide several months of generous amounts of rainfall making constant watering unnecessary. Regularly watering new trees is very important - new trees need about 1 inch of water each week for about two years when rainfall is low (it is important to not overwater and drown the roots because they need air as well in order to grow). If an inch of water is not received during the week, a sprinkler system or any type of watering device can be turned on in order to supplement the lack of moisture.

Knowing the right tree for the right place is crucial. Many of the trees that are planted are going to mature to a height that can reach 40’ and go all the way up to 100’. Just to give you an example, that pretty little 5 gallon sycamore tree that you see at the nursery is going to mature into a very large tree that can reach heights up to 100’ and have a spread of 50' plus. Doing proper research and planning before trees are planted is very important. What many home owners can do is before planting, draw a sketch of the landscape, or yard, and the existing plants. Envision the landscape in 5, 10 and even 50 years from now and what the mature plants that already exist are going to look like. Then what you can do is strategically pick the proper placement for the shade tree that you intend to plant and what the maturity is going to look like for that tree. What you don’t want to do is plant that sycamore tree in an area that cannot sustain a large tree because any restrictions that tree receives along the way will inhibit the overall growth and development of the tree.

Proper planting is a must. Dig a hole, where you intend to plant a tree, at least twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper than the depth of the soil on the root ball. Making sure that the sides are rough and not smooth will sometimes help the roots grow into the surrounding soil, so make sure the sides are not smooth. Place the tree in the hole as soon as possible. Once the tree is in the hole, make sure that the tree is upright and not leaning to one side or another. After the tree is straight, backfill the hole with the dirt that was recently dug out of the hole (do not backfill with compost or other material because the tree may be slow in developing a good, widespread root system and it may cause drainage problems).

If you are having a hard time deciding what kind of tree to plant, I can offer you some advice. If your soil is more of an acid soil, Red Maples, Southern Pines, Flowering Dogwoods, and Southern Magnolias are some very good trees to consider. Red Maples are deciduous trees that offer mature heights of 50’ – 60’, spreads of 25’ – 35’, and grow at rapid rates and prefer moist to wet locations. Southern Magnolias (which produce our state flower) are evergreen trees that can reach heights up to 75’, have spreads up to 50’, have slow to moderate growth and prefer dry to moist conditions. All of these trees offer something a little different, so finding your personal preference and the right location is the key to success.

Since we have been in very dry conditions the past couple of years, some trees that can tolerate dry conditions are Green Ashes, Sweetgums, Red Cedars, and Red Oaks. Green Ash trees are becoming more and more popular due to their rapid growth traits. They also offer a mature height of about 50’ – 60’ and a spread that is about 50’ across. Red Oaks are deciduous trees that are also very popular due to their fall color and nice shape. These trees can reach a mature height up to 100’ and can have a spread that can extend out all the way to 75’ - so proper placement of this tree is a must. Red Oaks are fairly moderate growers but as you can see, they mature very nicely over their lifespans.

Some other trees that do well in Louisiana also offer attractive berries or fruits that can make a colorful display during certain times of the year. Hollies, Carolina buckthorns, Crab Apples and Sparkleberries offer homeowners opportunities to enjoy their shade as well as their vibrant colors. Hollies are usually smaller to medium in size where their heights are around 25’ and their spreads are from 20’ – 25’. These are evergreen trees that are moderate growers, prefer moist grounds, and the females retain red berries all winter long. Sparkleberries are small attractive trees that are favored by wildlife, especially birds. Due to their smaller stature, they are excellent understory trees that usually reach heights from 15’ – 25’ and are typically fast growers that have a shiny, blue/black berry.

Trees offer so many benefits to landscapes across southwest Louisiana. If you are thinking about planting shade trees, now is the time! By properly planning, preparing and planting those shade trees, you will be able to enjoy the benefits that each individual tree has to offer. Remember, the best time to have planted a tree was 50 years ago so that you can enjoy all that it has to offer now; since you didn’t plant the tree 50 years ago, now is the time!

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