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Fall's a great time for planting trees


As most everyone knows by now, trees provide environmental benefits such as stormwater retention, shade, wildlife habitat and reduced energy consumption. They help us fight climate change and help keep our water and air clean. Trees help to bolster property values in residential and commercial areas and improve the aesthetic appeal of urban streets.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: CYNTHIA ORLANDO - Japanese maple makes a nice tree choice for smaller spaces and provides excellent fall color. Zelkova and maples are nice trees for medium-size yards, or try tulip trees for larger areas.If properly selected and planted with sufficient space to grow, urban trees can provide all of the above benefits at little cost.

With fall in the air comes opportunities to harvest what’s left in the garden, get outdoors to enjoy fall color in one of the area’s many city parks, and yes, with milder temperatures it’s also a great time to plant a new tree in your yard or garden.

Right tree, right place

What kind of tree will you plant, and where will you plant it? When deciding on tree type, take a look around your property and picture how the tree might best fit into the surrounding landscape.

Knowing what the mature size of your tree will be will help ensure that the tree you select will be a good fit for your site. You don’t want to end up with branches scraping against the roof or siding, and you also don’t want the tree’s roots too close to the foundation. 

Large trees like tulip trees, maples, or Ponderosa pines should be planted well away from fences and your home. Ask your local nursery how big the tree will get, how much sun it will require, and know the solar orientation of the site.

Tree planting tips

So you’ve purchased a tree and brought it home. What next? Probably the three most common tree planting errors are not digging a big enough hole, planting the tree too deeply, and improper mulching and watering.

First, dig the hole at least 2 feet wider than the size of the root system or root ball; a large hole will allow better root growth, and is especially important in compacted soils. Handle the plant by the root ball, not the trunk.

Once in the hole, it’s important to remove the wire basket, if there is one, as well as the burlap and ties. Make sure the roots are covered with soil, using soil that was removed from the hole and taking care not to plant the tree too deeply. Instead, set it slightly above the level of the surrounding soil to allow for settling and increased soil draining. It is not necessary to fertilize a newly planted tree, but a deep watering will help get rid of air pockets and is essential.

Use of mulch

Applying mulch is recommended. It helps prevent soil temperature and moisture fluctuations during summer months, and discourages weeds. Just don’t overdo it, because a tree’s roots need to breathe; adding a depth of 4 to 6 inches is fine. Spread the mulch one to two feet out from the trunk, leaving a 3- to 4-inch ring around the base of your tree mulch-free.

The urban forest

What’s an urban forest? An urban forest includes all trees in the community, whether they are grown on private property or public property. Who is responsible for maintaining these trees? As with most cities, in Oregon City, for example, abutting property owners are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of street trees in the public right-of-way adjacent to their property. Most routine maintenance (such as proper pruning and cleanup of debris) can be done by homeowners and helps keep trees healthy and streets and sidewalks clear. Remember to employ the services of a certified arborist for significant work such as major pruning or tree removal and replacement in the right-of-way.

What to do with leaves

Don’t feel compelled to haul fallen leaves off-site. Composting your leaves on-site will keep leaves out of the city’s storm drain and also return valuable nutrients to the soil for next year’s gardening efforts.

When spring arrives avoid planting flowers at the base of your tree. Flowers compete with trees for moisture during summer months, and digging around the base of your tree can introduce pathogens into its root zone.

Cynthia Orlando has a degree in forest management and is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.