Thursday, August 21, 2014

Triumphs and Tragedies - Tree Planting

When we first bought this property there was hardly a tree in sight.  When I looked at our space I saw 90% lawn and just a few trees on the edges.  There was no shade, no windbreak, no privacy and nothing to look at.

The early days...

Each spring for the last 4 years we have planted trees in an attempt to change those conditions.  We started with mostly native trees.  They were easy to dig out of ditches which saved us money.  They are also better adapted to our environment so there's less chance they will be troubled by pests or weather conditions.  I also like that they play host to many insects and birds.

In the spring of 2010 I planted this white pine.  It was a foot tall then.


White Pine is native to this area and well adapted to all that nature can throw at it.  Four years later my white pine looks like this.

from one foot to 8 feet in 4 short years
I'll count this as a triumph.  That's one happy tree.

Although I like native trees I think a few ornamental trees contrast nicely and make for an interesting landscape.  The last two years I have started purchasing ornamental trees to fill out our landscape.  When shopping at nurseries one should always trust their instincts.  I know this but amazingly I often disregard this advice and always live to regret it. 

Last spring I took myself to a nursery that was selling trees that were a bit optimistic for our climate.  I knew that wasn't a good sign but I ignored it.  The trees were cheap and I was game.  I also disregarded the fact that some of these trees had suffered frost damage.  I was told they would be fine.  They were not.  A tulip poplar with frozen buds never recovered.  Let this be a lesson to all of you.  If you think something isn't right, ask questions.  If you still has some reservations, walk away.  


Not all the trees died.  Some, like this Copper Beech were not incredibly healthy but they survived.  In this photo the leaves were curling up and starting to die back.  I found when I took the tree out of its pot that there was very little root mass to support such a large tree.  The top two thirds of the tree have now died but new leaves sprouted from the bottom portion of the tree and with some pruning it will eventually grow into a proper tree.

Lesson learned.  Get to know your  nurseries.  Good nurseries aren't cheap.  They have a long track record.  Staff are knowledgable, they know what will grow in your climate.  They offer warranties.  and for goodness sake, if your warning bells start going off don't ignore them. (I'm speaking to myself here!)

Even if you buy trees from a good nursery there are lessons to be learned.  I also bought a native Pagoda Dogwood from MacPhail Nursery last year.  MacPhail has outstanding staff, quality plants and good prices.  I have shopped there for 4 years now and never been disapointed.  But I need to hold up my end of the bargain.

My Dogwood was 6 feet tall with great spreading branches when I bought it.  It leafed out, bloomed and I was smitten.  It would be a fantastic tree if I had bothered to water it.  You see, I failed to take into account that the larger the tree the more water is required.  Newly planted trees should receive at least one inch of water per week for the first season.  A common formula used to measure the amount of water necessary is 10 gallons (38 liters) per week for every inch of tree caliper.   That is a lot of water.  I did water my tree but not nearly that much.  I was used to watering 1 foot tall trees and I didn't think to give the big one more.  Now my tree looks like this.

My, now dead, Dogwood
That's right, it's dead.  I have been dreading owning up to this.  I tend to walk as far away from that tree as possible when I go around the garden.  I'm embarrassed because I screwed up big time.  Water your trees folks.  The bigger the tree the more water it needs. 

I am trying very hard to remember that lesson these days.  You see we bought more trees this year.  Jody insisted on big ones.  He's tired of waiting for wee trees to grow into small trees (no chance of them growing into big trees so quick).  So we purchased two 9 foot tall trees and shoved them into the station wagon.  (*note for future reference, 9 foot tall trees can fit into a Ford Wagon... though it's a bit crowded).  A Glenleven Linden, and an Ivory Silk Lilac Tree now grace the front lawn.

A Linden on the left and Lilac tree on the right
 We also purchased 5 foot tall Yews and a Yellow Bird Magnolia.

Yellow Bird Magnolia
Big trees are costly so hopefully I have learned my lesson.  Get out your buckets and get watering!!

26 comments:

  1. You are so right about getting to know a good nursery and talking to them about the plants. I am so pleased you have been planting all these trees, even though some of them have brought with them painful gardening life lessons. I have a theory that the older we get; the bigger the trees we plant. If you have gone from 1 foot to 9 feet in so little time, imagine the size of tree you'll be planting 10 years from now!

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    1. LOL, pretty soon I'll end up with one of those 'tree trucks' coming to visit with 20 foot trees if you're right! Honestly I don't know I'd like to plant anything bigger than 10 feet. I hate the idea of staking trees so I tend to veer away from the big ones.

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    2. I recently read that the advice is not to stake young trees. They need the wind to grow strong. But perhaps in your climate? The white pine certainly looks blissed out!

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    3. There's a saying Diana, I may not get this exactly right but it goes something like - Strong trees do not grow with ease, the strong the wind the stronger the tree. I always think of that quote when I plant trees. When the wind blows it rocks the tree and the roots have to grip tighter, thus ensuring a well anchored tree. This is why I try never to stake trees. We have lots of wind here and our trees must be strong.

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  2. Yes a yard without any trees is a crime! I love that y'all plant trees every year :)

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    1. Thanks Keith. You wouldn't believe how many bare yards there are in this province. People are very fond of their lawns. With all the wind we get it just makes no sense to me.

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  3. I agree that watering is key. Plus you have to chose the best tree don't skimp. Bite the bullet and buy one before it is pot bound etc. Your aboretum will be fabulous when the trees get larger.

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    1. Good tip Lisa. Buying trees first thing in spring will get you better selection and less likely to be pot bound. We had good luck with all the trees we purchased at reputable nurseries this year. Roots all looked great and the trees appear to be in good health. I've been thinking of a water meter for our yard to show me just how much rain we've had each week so I have a better idea about how much to water.

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  4. Trees are the backbones of our gardens and when planted they need a lot of watering care the first years.

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    1. how true! I visited a couple public gardens this year and what I really noticed was the mature trees. It makes such a difference.

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  5. But wow, that pine tree!! (Focusing on the positive!!) I knew they grew quickly but that quickly?? I'd be buying many more of those!

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    1. I think they grow pretty fast in the first 5 years or so and then slow down. It's quite impressive though isn't it?

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  6. So far we haven't invested in any trees...I mean invested, they are very expensive here even on sale, and yes we do need to ask questions and do our research. I am kind of glad that we waited, there are shrubs, and perennials, and the trees that I brought up from the coast...but it's a steep learning curve. Last year was tough on a lot of the plants, there was lot of dieback from the winter. You have given great advice, and I am going out prepared even more now when I finally buy.

    Jen.

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    1. Good trees don't come cheap do they? Good for you waiting until you get to know your property better and what will fit for you. We felt we couldn't wait as there was just too much open space. So we learn a bit by trial and error :)

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  7. My first love in gardening has always been tree planting, so I loved this honest post about your successes and failures. My experiences have been identical -- including losing a pagoda dogwood, so sad. But the triumphs are very rewarding when the little trees become big -- good luck with all of your lovely trees! What an improvement they'll make to your open space.

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    1. Laurrie I thought of you as I wrote this. You have been such an inspiration to me with all the trees you planted. I was always interested to see how it worked for you. So sad you lost your dogwood too. We are learning a lot though aren't we!

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  8. Marguerite girl .. we all have to learn from our mistakes ... I don't think I watered enough either but by some fluke the tree gods let my trees live .. phew ! I would love to cram more trees in the gardens but I think we have our limit for now, until I think of a way to incorporate more? LOL
    Hey ... walking fast past your mistakes is OK girl .. as long as you learn from them it is OK !! LOL
    Joy : )
    PS ... love that pine ... love the smell of pine especially at Xmas!!

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    1. Joy, I must be learning a lot because I sure do have a knack for making mistakes! Pine boughs are gorgeous, love those long needles on them and the smell is very sweet.

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  9. We bought three trees this summer: a redbud, an oak and a Japanese Maple. The Redbud is struggling and thinking over your advice I may have made a mistake. The location I chose is perhaps too sunny. The Japanese Maple was a sale item with no guarantee. We will see next spring just how much of a bargain it was. I have been watering them faithfully tough. Fingers crossed they all make it through winter.

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    1. Best of luck to you Jennifer. Don't get down about the Redbud, I hear they are quite finicky customers. I have eyed them up myself as they are so beautiful but I don't think they could ever handle my climate. I think it's luck of the draw sometimes whether you hit on the right spot for a plant. Sometimes they just take to a spot like they were born for it and other times they sulk. I planted two larch within feet of each other here. One has grown over 10 feet and the other has struggled and only reached 4 feet high in the same amount of time. There's no logic to it.

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  10. Hello,
    We planted 3 Balsam Fir on our property when we moved in, and they did very well. We dug them from my parents woods. We bought an apple tree and it did well too. But the apple tree that was here when we moved in 17 years ago is looking sick this year. :-(

    Yes, I hear ya....water, water, water!! And I feel for you. Trees are hard to grow. We just happen to have good luck.

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    1. Balsam are wonderful trees Carla. We always get a balsam for Christmas. Old apple trees can take sick overnight I've found. We have had a number of ours that look healthy one year suddenly start to die off. One tree was completely dead within 2 years of symptoms. Not sure what it is but they can go quick when they decide they're done.

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  11. I took special note of your advice to water deeply. The dogwood tree was especially looking sad and now today we have had a good soaking rain, thankfully. My how that White Pine took off!! Love your Triumphs and Tragedies posts.

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    1. Hi Brenda! We had quite the soak today too. Boy did it ever come down heavy at times. of course I was thinking oh good I don't have to water now :)

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  12. That's a very happy looking white pine. I learned the hard way how quickly these trees can grow. They self-sow all over my property; and if I don't pull up the seedlings in the first year, it's too late. A couple years later, you turn around and the tree is so big it has to be cut down. -Jean

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    1. oh, that's exciting to hear! I didn't know they would self sow but of course that makes sense. I've planted 5 of these trees so far and I wish they would all grow so quickly. This particular one is exceptionally happy in its location.

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