My love affair with trees began many years ago when I started gardening in earnest in my yard at Turkey Hill in Connecticut. I realized the importance of trees in a residential landscape and tried hard to learn which ones would grow well, lending beauty and importance to the land.
I read all sorts of landscape books, including a very early one written by Humphry Repton describing his designs for some of the greatest parks surrounding many of England’s stately homes. Repton’s cleverly painted overlays of what could be, placed over accurate drawings of what existed, were an early and extremely successful tool. They were the precursor to today’s architectural computer-aided design drawings, which give us the same preview.
When I moved to the farm at Bedford, N.Y., I spent a great deal of time studying my acreage, determining what trees were needed where, and which plantings would most enhance the vistas. I visited many nurseries, picking trees that appealed to me, were appropriate to the area, and would be necessary for foliage color, impact and practical functions, such as wind breaks and screening. Realizing I would need thousands of trees before I completed the job of landscaping and reforestation, I focused on the more important locations — areas near buildings, along drives, and close to gardens and pastures.
I paid close heed to Repton’s “axis of vision” principle, looking carefully at areas where the eye was regularly drawn, planting larger specimens there to add pleasure and gravitas to the views.
Even today, I’m determined to continue adding to the original plan. I estimate that we have dug close to 4,100 holes and planted that many small, medium and large trees. I hope they will grow and thrive and afford a special look and feel to my home, garden and landscape, benefiting not only me, but also the neighborhood and the environment.
Some lessons I have learned while planting new trees: Young, freshly dug, well-grown trees with a two- to four-inch caliper are excellent candidates for landscape planting (rather than mature, large, more expensive specimens). Many trees are sold “ball and burlap”; with these, slide the tree into the hole, cut away as much of the wire basket around the root as you can and push the burlap down to the bottom of the hole. Dig holes correctly, amend soil and feed young trees with a fertilizer designed for use at planting time. Water carefully and well when planting, as well as several times a week for its first summer. Plant a new tree near a large declining important tree before the declining tree dies. Select trees that are known to thrive in your area, and buy ones that are grown locally if possible. It’s definitely worth taking the time to choose carefully. You will be rewarded with lasting beauty.
How to plant a container tree
A container-grown tree is much easier to plant than a traditional ball-and-burlap one. By planting in spring, you ensure that the roots have time to become established before winter’s chill. When you plant a tree, it is better to think of the job as preparing a site rather than merely digging a hole:
• Using a sharp spade, dig a hole about three times the diameter of the container and just deep enough to let the tree’s buttress, the swelling at the base of the trunk, sit about one inch above the soil surface. Then I add a few shovels of compost to the soil and thoroughly mix it in to provide a homogenous growing medium.
• To remove the tree from the container, grasp the trunk and slide off the plastic pot. Firmly tap on the container to release any stubborn areas.
• Container-grown trees must have their roots teased apart to prevent them from continuing to grow in circles. Use a tool or your hands to gently remove the soil and separate the roots.
• Position the tree in the hole, taking time to place the plant’s best side outward. Backfill the hole using the same soil you dug out.
• I add Bio-tone Starter by Espoma (available at nurseries) when I plant a new tree, sprinkling it around the edge of the root-ball according to the package directions.
• Carefully prune dead or damaged wood.
• Water thoroughly right after planting. Sculpting a “water well” helps prevent runoff so water drains directly into the plant. Provide at least one inch of water each week for the tree’s first season. After its first watering, I apply a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to slow evaporation and keep roots cool.
Find more great planting advice at www.marthastewart.com/gardening.
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