Here are some tips for selecting, planting trees

Richard Bogren  |  11/18/2016 5:17:39 PM

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(11/18/16) October to March is the prime season for planting hardy trees in Louisiana, and November through early December is an especially good time. The soil is still warm, which encourages vigorous root growth, and trees will have several months to get established before next summer’s heat.

At the same time, the weather is cool and the trees are going dormant, which reduce stress. Generous rainfall during winter makes constant attention to watering unnecessary. Planting at this time is especially beneficial for balled-and-burlapped trees because they lose so much of their root system when they are dug.

The trees you plant eventually will grow much larger than the saplings you purchase and bring home from the nursery. Although it is tempting to plant more trees than you really need, years later you will realize you made a terrible mistake.

No one tree is perfect tree for Louisiana. All trees have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the planting location and desired characteristics. Here are some points you need to consider:

– Select a tree that will mature at the appropriate size. I cannot stress this too much. Generally, small trees are those that grow from 15 to 25 feet tall; medium-sized trees grow from 30 to 55 feet tall; and large trees grow 60 feet tall or more.

To get a feel for how well a tree will fit into the spot you have selected, try this exercise: For the type of tree you have selected, look up the expected spread of the branches. Divide the expected spread by two, and cut a piece of twine or string that long. If, for instance, the expected spread is 40 feet, cut a piece of string 20 feet long. Drive a stake into the ground where you intend to plant the tree and tie one end of the string to the stake. Stretch out the string to its full length and walk in a circle around the stake. This will let you really see how much space the tree will occupy.

– Think about the purpose of the tree and why you feel it is needed. Do you need it to shade a two-story house or a small patio? Will a row of evergreen trees provide a screen or windbreak? This will help you determine the characteristics the tree should have, such as its shape, size and rate of growth. Also consider flowers, attractive berries, brightly colored fall foliage or unusual bark.

– Decide if you want an evergreen tree that retains its foliage year-round or a deciduous tree that loses its leaves in winter. Evergreen trees will provide consistent shade while deciduous trees won’t.

– Choose trees that are well adapted to our growing conditions. A number of northern species of beech, maple, conifers and others you might see in catalogs are unsuitable for our area.

– Check the location of overhead power lines, and if you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider underground water lines and septic tanks as well as walks, drives and paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from your house and paved surfaces.

Planting trees is not particularly complicated, but doing it properly greatly enhances a tree’s ability to properly establish and grow. Plant trees properly according to these steps:

– Dig the hole at least twice the diameter and no deeper than the height of the root ball.

– Remove container-grown trees from the container. If the root ball is tightly packed with thick encircling roots, try to unwrap, open up or even cut some of the roots to encourage them to spread into the surrounding soil. Place the root ball in the hole.

– In the case of a balled-and-burlapped tree, place it into the planting hole, then remove any nails, nylon twine or wire basket that has been used to secure the burlap. Finally, fold down the burlap from the top half of the root ball.

– The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant trees too deep.

– Thoroughly pulverize the soil removed from the hole and use this soil, without any additions, to backfill around the tree, firming the soil as it is added. Finish filling the hole, and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.

– Generally, fertilizer is not applied to trees planted in fall, although some slow-release fertilizer could be applied next spring. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional.

– Stake the tree if it is tall enough to be unstable; otherwise, it’s not necessary. Leave the support in place no more than nine to 12 months.

Keep the area 1 to 2 feet out from the trunk of a newly planted tree mulched and free of weeds and grass. The mulch should be about 4 inches deep and pulled back slightly from the base of the tree.

Water a newly planted or transplanted tree whenever the weather is dry. This is the single most important thing you can do to ensure its survival, especially during the first summer after planting. To properly water a tree its first year, turn a hose on trickle and lay the end on top of the ground within 6 inches of the trunk. Let the water trickle for about 30 to 45 minutes. This should be done twice a week during hot, dry weather.

Willow Oak Yount Tree.jpg thumbnail

Willow oak. Photo by Dan Gill

Sweetbay Magnolia young tree.jpg thumbnail

Sweetbay magnolia. Photo by Dan Gill

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