By Matthew Knull
Trees clean the air and water, and they increase the aesthetics of properties. They provide shade to keep homes cool, can decrease the wind load on homes, and can even reduce the cost of heating it in the winter. Living in a neighborhood with more trees is also scientifically proven to be related to stress reduction among residents. With all these benefits, trees essentially increase the value of the properties on which they grow.
If you are planting a tree, where should you start? Size matters with trees, and if you’re looking for the most benefits quickly, you won’t want to start small.
The larger the tree, the greater the value
The larger a tree is in size, the greater the benefits will be and the more value it will add to the property — as long as it’s healthy and properly cared for.
However, a larger tree is also more expensive. Especially if you wanted to transport and plant it somewhere else. Planting small trees will be cheaper, but the benefits will be far less, and the homeowner might not be able to enjoy the full benefits of the tree during his or her lifetime.
Only time can increase the value and benefits of a tree, so patience and foresight are key. You can easily compromise, though, by planting a nursery-grown tree that’s already large enough to provide some benefits but still small enough to plant affordably.
Right tree, right place
When it comes to adding a tree to a property, you also need the skills and knowledge to plant the right tree in the right spot. Redwoods, for example, are amazing trees. However, when redwoods are planted under power lines, they tend to create more problems than benefits.
Azaleas are another example of a plant that causes trouble. Planting azaleas in full sunlight where they tend to have more problems with pests and pathogens, such as the azalea leafminer, just increases damage to the property rather than adding value.
Planting the tree
There are quite a few common mistakes people make when planting a tree that result in the tree having problems down the road.
The first is planting a tree too deep. When this happens, trunk tissue that would normally be exposed to the air is now underground in much darker and wetter conditions. The moisture and lack of air cause decomposition to start on the trunk from fungi and bacteria, which can impact the tree’s overall health.
Another mistake to avoid is leaving a wire basket on the root ball. Some trees come with a wire basket or other type of material to secure the root ball. It’s best to take this off after the tree has been placed in the planting hole, but before the hole is filled in with dirt. If not, the trunk and roots may eventually grow into the basket material, which cuts off the flow of nutrients.
You also don’t want to add too much mulch on the ground around the tree or have it piled against the trunk. Too much mulch causes an excess of moisture in this upper layer of soil around the roots. This makes roots susceptible to fungi and bacteria that thrive in excess moisture. The same problem occurs when mulch is piled against a trunk because moisture gets trapped underneath.
When you mulch, stick to a two-inch-thick layer of wood material or four inches of pine straw. Make sure the mulch is kept at least two inches from the trunk of the tree.
Keep up on the maintenance of the new tree
Trees need continuous care and maintenance to make sure they don’t have to be removed or turn into a hazard to your immediate environment.
The maintenance process should start when the tree is young. After a tree is planted, irrigation is key to successfully establish the tree to its new home. Once the tree is well established, it must be repeatedly pruned to give the tree a sound structure. If the tree is poorly maintained, the risk for branch failure, costly cleanups, and damage is greater. It’s much cheaper and easier to prune trees when they are small to avoid these problems.
Planting trees takes a surprising amount of foresight. You not only have to anticipate how these trees will impact the property decades down the road, but you also have to predict where to plant young trees to take the place of old or hazard trees.
Although trees can live a very long time, they will eventually die. We have to keep in mind that the older a tree gets, the more susceptible it is to stress from drought, insects, pests, diseases, soil compaction from traffic, and many other factors. This is why it’s so important to inspect and maintain your trees consistently. You might even consider planting trees of various ages and species so that if one tree is killed by decomposition or an invasive insect, there are others to fill in that gap.
Planting a tree is a great way to improve the beauty of a property and the overall environment, but it’s crucial that you pay attention to the impact that tree will have over time, and proper care is taken so the tree continues to brighten that space for years to come.
Matthew Knull is an ISA-certified arborist, Certified Treecare Safety Professional, certified by (TCIA), and an Arborist Training Instructor with ACRT. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in forestry and natural resources from the University of Georgia.