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Select an Appropriate Tree to Plant on Arbor Day

Above: Lindsey Purcell (screenshot) from his Purdue Extension video, Tree Planting Part 1: Choosing a Tree, FNR-538-WV

Arbor Day is the last Friday in April in Indiana; this year it is April 29. This date is strategically chosen to be right in the middle of one the best time periods all year to plant a tree in Indiana. So, if you have been thinking about adding a tree or two to your home landscape, late April is a great time to do it! Fall is also a good time. A Purdue expert encourages proper tree selection and following best planting practices when installing trees.

Lindsey Purcell, Purdue urban forestry specialist, urged homeowners to celebrate and pay tribute to our trees by selecting and planting a tree where you live, or taking part in a community tree planting for Arbor Day. “Learn how to choose and plant a tree properly to help improve the longevity and hopefully it will be providing those benefits in the future for your grandchildren and beyond,” he said. “Trees can be a living legacy to great environmental stewardship.”

So, before rushing headlong into a tree purchase, it will pay to think about the location in which you hope to plant the tree. The reason for this is that you want the right tree in the right place.

Start with the site characteristics of the location in your landscape in which you want to plant a tree. Based on these characteristics, certain tree species may or may not be well-suited for the site.

Consider topography, drainage, soil type, whether it’s in full sun or partial shade, and proximity to power lines and structures. For example, in areas that collect and hold water (a low spot in your lawn), a river birch, swamp white oak or red maple would be well-suited, but most pines or spruces would probably struggle to thrive.

Consider the space you have and the mature size of the tree you select. Will the mature size of the tree, both height and width, be appropriate for the space?

Is it full sun or partial shade? Many of the possible trees you would select prefer full sun. However, some species do prefer an “overstory” of taller trees or partial shade. Trees in this category would be Allegany serviceberry, flowering dogwood, and eastern hemlock. Sugar maples will also tolerate shady situations in its younger life.

It’s best to not plant any tree under power lines, but if you have a site that’s close, you will want to select a tree that remains relatively short in stature. Some possible choices for shorter-statured trees include eastern redbud, crabapple, or ‘Royal Star’ magnolia.

Of course, it’s also important to plant the tree correctly. Two common mistakes that homeowners make are planting the tree too deeply, and mounding a “volcano” of mulch around the tree.

The rule of thumb on depth is that the root flare, or fattened area of trunk just above the first main root, should be visible above the finished soil grade. Note that when purchasing balled-and-burlapped trees for planting, the top of the root ball may not be the location of the desired finished soil grade – the root flare may be farther down.

Two to three inches of mulch should be added around the tree to help reduce water loss in the root zone, suppress weeds, and provide a visual cue to mowers to keep the mower deck away from the trunk, but no mulch should be in direct contact with the trunk. Leave a small air gap between the trunk and the beginning of the mulch ring.

Find additional information from resources at Purdue Extension’s Education Store, For a video on tree selection, see Tree Planting Part 1: Choosing a Tree, FNR-538-WV. For tree planting tips, see Tree Installation: Process and Practices, FNR-433-W. For help with selecting appropriate trees for your landscape, see publication FNR-531-W, Tree Selection for the ‘Un-natural’ Environment. Find a utility-friendly tree list in the Purdue Extension publication, Trees and Electric Lines, FNR-512-W.

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