|Tree Replacement After the Storms:|
Selection, Planting and Care
The 2011 spring tornadoes left a path of devastation across Alabama. Among the storms’ casualties were many large, mature shade trees whose absence has dramatically altered the landscape. Trees provide more than beauty. They give us a sense of history and well-being, make our communities livable, provide habitat for wildlife and shade our homes — helping us save money on utility bills.
Every tree, large or small, started out as a small seedling. Just as generations before us planted and nurtured trees we have enjoyed for many years, we can have a major impact on our communities for years to come by helping replace trees lost in the storms.
Right Plant – Right Place
Consider all of the factors when selecting the best tree for each location. A tree should be suited to the location’s light exposure, soil drainage, soil chemistry and available space. Think about both the above and below-ground space needed for the mature canopy and root system of the tree.
Plant a mixture of tree species. Avoid overuse of any one type, so your landscape will be visually interesting and can better weather both storms and future pest outbreaks. For recommendations, consult a local arborist or Extension horticulturist or nursery person, or visit one of the many arboretums or botanical gardens around the state.
When you have decided which tree to plant, think small. Better success starts with smaller trees; one to three inches in diameter at the base. Small trees are also less expensive, easier to plant and require less time to establish.
Planting for Success
Soil improvement and preparation are also critical for a good start and long-term tree health. A soil analysis is only $7 and provides valuable information to help you select trees and learn what soil nutrient and pH adjustments are needed. Find soil testing information at your county Extension office or visit the Auburn University Soil Testing Lab website at www.aces.edu/soiltest. Always call 811 to locate underground water and utility lines before digging.
Plant trees in large, wide holes rather than in narrow, deep ones. Do not dig the hole deeper than the root ball of the tree being planted. If the soil has a poor texture — either too sandy or too heavy, add loose, loamy topsoil and composted organic matter in an area as wide as possible. Till any soil amendments like organic matter, top soil or lime into the entire planting area.
When your hole is dug, spread the root system out laterally. Cut circling roots that could grow around and girdle the tree trunk in the future. Set plants at the proper depth by finding the uppermost lateral root and keep it at or near the soil surface. For container-grown plants, wash and remove most of the organic mix from the root ball to expose the root system and to make needed root corrections. Remove the top third of burlap from balled and burlapped bags, or if the bag is made from a synthetic material, remove as much of the bag as possible.
With an adequate watering schedule, container-grown trees can be planted at any time. But the best times to plant in Alabama, especially for balled and burlapped or bare-root trees, are fall and winter. Planting in fall or early-winter reduces planting stress and water needs compared to planting in warmer seasons.
Watering is critically important at any planting time. When a tree is first planted, add water slowly every day or two at a rate of about two gallons per inch of trunk diameter. After a few weeks, decrease the frequency, but increase the volume and expand it to a wider area to encourage wide-spreading roots. You may need to water for six months or even a year, depending on the size of the tree and the time of year planted.
Fertilization and pruning are not usually necessary the first year except to remove dead, rubbing or broken limbs.
Finally, create a weed and grass-free mulch ring around the tree to protect it from string trimmer and lawn mower damage. Apply about three inches of mulch in a ring around the plant, but avoid direct contact with the trunk.
Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.