This past winter has not been kind to Verona’s trees. Wind, ice and rain brought down many of the town’s decades-old giant oaks and maples, some street-side trees and some deep in yards. Even now, you can still see tree service companies around towns pruning damaged limbs. If you’re thinking of planting replacements in honor of Earth Day or Arbor Day, there are some things to know to make sure the new tree lasts as long as long as the last one.
Bob Dickison, chairman of Verona’s Shade Tree Commission, says that spring and fall are the best planting times. You can put a new tree in any time until the third week in June, but if you miss that deadline, it’s best to hold off again until after Labor Day. The Shade Tree Commission is responsible for the trees that line Verona’s streets, but Dickison’s 25 years on the commission and his decades of maintaining the grounds of the Upper Montclair Country Club give him a broad perspective on trees in a variety of locations.
What to pick? Dickison is quick to note that there is no one “perfect” tree. What you plant depends on several variables, from the topography of your yard to the tree’s role in your landscape. Maples and oaks are good shade trees, Dickison notes, but he cautions homeowners to stay away from silver maples, poplars, and willows, which he describes as “weak-wooded” and Callery Pears, which are prone to splitting. If you’ve got good shade trees but need something to fill in underneath, consider smaller understory trees like dogwoods and Eastern Redbuds. “Walk through a forest,” Dickison says, ” and you will see dogwoods growing under maples and oaks.” He notes that several varieties of dogwood have been developed by Rutgers University, ranging from spreading, shrub-like plants to trees that can reach 25 feet tall.
“Go to a reputable garden center,” Dickison advises. “The owners will be knowledgeable about local trees. Explain where you want to put the tree and they will help you choose the right one.” When you are deciding where to put your tree, be sure to consider the location of gas, water and sewer lines on your property, so you don’t break lines while digging or set yourself up for problems down the road. (PSE&G’s Before You Dig service will mark the location of utility lines on your property.) And resist the temptation to have an instant landscape: Dickison says small trees transplant best, so look for a tree whose trunk is no more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
You’ve got to plant your tree right too. Dig a hole that is wide, but no deeper than the depth of the root ball. Dickison notes that to accurately judge that depth, you may need to peel back the burlap covering the root ball and scrape away the top level of dirt. Be sure to tamp down the soil at the bottom of the hole so that your new tree doesn’t sink. Modify your soil to best match the soil that the sapling was grown in and, if you purchased your tree in a container, try to open up the roots a bit. You should also prune any broken branches and, if two branches are growing from the same spot, take off the weaker of the two.
Dickison says that while you need to water your tree right away, you should hold off on fertilizing until the roots have had a chance to develop in their new location. To help water your tree during the summer months, consider getting a tree bag or a gel pack from the garden center.
Home page photo of Eastern Redbud blossoms by hoodedwarbler12, via Wikimedia Commons
Northern red oak photo on this page by Timothy Van Vliet, via Wikimedia Commons