Arbor Day is officially recognized in Louisiana on the third Friday in January. If your landscape was affected by recent hurricanes or your new house needs valuable shade to decrease energy bills and improve your comfort of life, now is a great time to plant trees. A healthy tree canopy adds value and beauty to home sites, commercial properties and the community.
The winter months are excellent times for planting trees in Louisiana. During this period, the soil is still warm, encouraging vigorous root growth, and trees will have several months to get established before summer’s heat. Generous rainfall (hopefully) during the winter also makes constant attention to watering unnecessary.
Plant trees properly using these steps:
Dig the hole at least two to three times the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball.
Remove a container-grown tree 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.
Place balled-and-burlapped trees into the planting hole. Remove any nails, nylon twine or wire basket that has been used to secure the burlap. Then fold down the burlap from the top half of the root ball or remove the burlap without causing damage to the root ball.
Make the top of the root ball slightly elevated above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant trees too deeply.
Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil, without any additions, to backfill around the tree. Add soil around the tree until the hole is half full. Then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets, but do not pack it tightly. Finish filling the hole, firm the soil again, and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.
Do not fertilize trees at planting. Wait until May or June and then apply some slow-release fertilizer. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional. If used, apply no more than 3 to 5 applications.
Stake the tree if it is tall enough to be unstable; otherwise, staking is not necessary. If staking, drive two or three stakes firmly into the ground just beyond the root ball. Use strips of cloth or webbing and loosely tie the trunk to the stakes. This will allow some trunk movement. Measuring from the soil, tie at one-third the tree’s height. Leave the support in place no more than 12 months.
Keep the area 2 to 4 feet out from the trunk of a newly planted tree mulched and free from weeds and grass. This encourages the tree to establish more quickly by eliminating competition from other plants. It also prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from damaging the bark at the base of the tree, which can cause stunting or death. The mulch should be 2 inches deep and pulled back slightly from the base of the trunk. Good trees for Louisiana include, but certainly are not limited to:
- green ash
- deciduous oaks (nuttall, willow, shumard, southern red, sawtooth, cherrybark)
- Southern magnolia
- bald cypress
- crape myrtles
- Southern live oak
- oriental magnolias
- Japanese maples
- loblolly bay (also called gordonia)
- sweet bay magnolia
- fringe tree
Know the tree’s growth rate and determine the planting location prior to purchase. Also, educate yourself on the characteristics of the individual tree species and the mature height and spread.
Proper planting and proper selection go a long way in long-term success with your shade trees in home landscapes. And don’t forget to call Louisiana One Call (dial 811) several days before you begin your installation. They will mark your underground utilities for free and assure a safe digging experience.