Most trees have lifespans that dwarf our own. It’s been said that we don’t plant trees for ourselves, we plant them for our grandchildren to enjoy.
It is sometimes hard to contemplate how large trees get. If you are considering, say, a white oak for your front yard, it would be wise to research just what it will look like in a hundred years. White oaks, one of the most common trees in Northern Virginia, don’t get particularly tall, only 70’-80’. But they do get very wide when they are planted by themselves. These strong horizontal branches are very attractive and make for great climbing trees. But does your yard have room for a tree that will be as wide as it is tall? Or will it have to be cut down in the prime of its life because it’s threatening the living room wall?
If you have a typical urban or suburban lot, particularly if the neighborhood has a lot of overhead wires, restrict your choices to dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties. It takes a lot of pruning to make a big tree fit healthily into a small space. Working with dwarf and semi-dwarf trees will ensure that the tree fits the space allotted to it.
When To Plant
If you put a healthy tree in a good location and maintain it well, there really is no bad time of the year to plant. But there are better times than others. In the dormant season, right from late October until just before the spring growth flush, is typically called the “ideal” planting season. That’s because if the tree is dormant when it goes in the ground it has the best possible chance of avoiding transplant shock, and it gets the greatest possible advantage from the spring growth. But if you planted in August it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
How To Avoid Transplant Shock
Transplant shock is the biggest killer of young trees. But there are ways to avoid it. In the first place, avoid buying root-balled or bare-root plants. This used to be the only way you could get them, but now almost every nursery has a wide selection of containerized trees, and even many mail order houses will send containerized transplants.
In the second place, avoid containerized trees that have been root-bound. If you buy at a nursery, ask when the tree was last repotted. Purchase ones that have been repotted recently, ideally in the last few months, to have the best chance at healthy roots.
And finally, bigger is not better. Bigger trees shock more easily. An older tree is typically more attractive to homeowners, who think they are getting a better start. But a 3-4 year old tree that settles in quickly and thrives will grow faster than a 7-8 year old tree that struggles through transplant shock for the first two years. As a bonus, small trees are much cheaper.
Following these guidelines when choosing a new tree will ensure that you enjoy it all the years of your life — and hopefully your grandkids will enjoy it too.