How to Grow Healthy Trees in Your Backyard

Posted by on May 13, 2022

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Planting a tree may seem like one of the easiest gardening projects there is. Johnny Appleseed singlehandedly introduced thousands of fruit-bearing saplings to North America. In an attempt to temper climate change, drones are being utilized to seed 10 to 20,000 trees a day. So, really, what could be so complicated about digging a hole and making leaves float in your yard? Well, a lot. To begin, you have to consider, the geography, sunlight and your honest preferences.

Below are some of the big issues to consider when picking and planting a tree you’re going to live with for, hopefully, decades. 

What Do You Want from Your Tree? 
If you’re a homeowner who plans to add tree in the yard, you need to answer some questions before you start digging a hole. For starters, do you want a tree to beautify your lawn, give part of the house shade or offer up fruit you can snack on while you’re surveying your domain? 

Answering these questions will help narrow your choices before you drive to the nursery. The better you understand your expectations and the ecosystem you live in, the easier the choice will be. For example, the scarlet colors of a Japanese maple look great near the curb. If you don’t want don’t want to worry about potential diseases and soil upkeep, American hollies are low-maintenance.

If you’re located in a part of the world where brush fires are commonplace, you may even want to proactively plant trees that can survive forest fires to give your home a little extra time if embers come creeping up the lawn. (Just to be clear: Trees are wood; none are completely fireproof.)

How Much Room Do You Have?

Two of the big variables you need to consider is how much room you have for the roots to grow out and the branches to grow up. For small trees, you should plant them at least 8 to 10 feet away from your house. The bigger the tree gets, the farther it has to be from your architecture and power lines. In 10 years, the small tree you plant may be surrounding the power lines and need to be regularly pruned or create a fire hazard.

You also need to know a bit about the roots before you choose your tree. For example, poplar trees have aggressive roots that can cause damage to foundations and sewer lines. The shallow roots of American elms can cause cracks in sidewalks. Silver maple roots may end up growing above the ground. If you're not a careful planner, a tree can make it a lot harder to grow and cut an even lawn.
Best time of the year to plant trees 
There’s some debate as to whether spring or fall is the best time of year to plant a tree. Both seasons have mild weather that should help the roots take hold without them getting “scorched” in the summer sun or freezing to death in the winter cold. 

Bob Vila posits that spring is when nurseries stock up with new plants, people love to start working in the yard and the temperate whether should give the tree’s roots time to take hold. Charlie Nardozzi of the National Gardening Association likes fall for deciduous trees since the short days and warm soil will foster those roots before winter. 
Of course there are other factors to consider. If you plant too close to the summer or winter months, those optimal seasonal conditions may end too quickly to get your tree well situated. Also, seasons vary quite a bit depending on what type of climate you live in. April in Dallas isn’t much like April in Seattle, so it’s always wise to consult your local nursery about the perfect time to plant a tree. 

Find the Right Location
Hopefully your search has taken into account the eventual location of the tree and how many sun rays the leaves will catch there. You also want to be sure your digging won’t hit one of your homes utility lines. Depending on your local utility, they may send out a representative to mark the location of the power lines for free so you can safely dig where they aren’t. If they won't send out a rep, you definitely want to figure out where the power and sewer lines are before you break ground.

Preparing the Soil

Figure out if your soil is compacted, which can be caused by construction and is common in urban areas. Dense soil also makes it difficult for the healthy roots to grow. You’ll need to aerate the land to ensure the tree has plenty of space to grow underground. 

Dig a hole two to three times larger than the root ball of the tree you brought home. Loosen up the soil around the area with an iron fork. 

To prepare the tree you've bought, remove any covering around the roots, such as burlap placed by the nursery. 

Adding nutrients also encourages growth. Compost or manure are often used to increase the soil’s level of nutrients. Regularly watering a tree may be necessary during the first few years of its life when the roots are getting established. The amount you need to water it to keep the roots moist depends on the type of tree and the climate where reside. After the first few years, the tree will be more drought-tolerant, but most should be watered during dry periods. 

Water the tree slowly and deeply, so the roots have time to absorb the moisture. A soaker hose or drip irrigation system can help do this effectively. You can also use sprinklers around your trees, as long as you direct the spray away from the trunk. Watering the trunk can cause rot. In addition, you'll want to water early in the day, so the leaves have time to dry before nightfall, which helps reduce the risk of disease. 

Creating a Mulch Circle 
Spreading a circle of mulch around your tree helps the roots stay moist, as well as protect them from extreme temperatures. Mulch helps to protect a tree’s roots and keep the soil moist. Spread a layer of mulch that's two to four inches deep around the base of your tree, but keep it away from the trunk, to prevent rot. Each year you'll want to grow the mulch circle since the roots will be extending along with it.

Call A Professional?
Every gardener likes to think of themself as an expert. But trees can be mysterious things. There are times when it's best to call a tree service. If your tree is diseased or injured, it's often best to consult with a certified arborist. 

Now, you're much better prepared to stick a shovel in your yard. With these tips, you'll be on your way to growing healthy trees. Once it's tall enough you may even want to add a birdhouse.

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