This is part one of a two-part article on trees. There is so much to know about trees, that any approach on them will take more than usual time and space to even begin to address the subject! This week, we’ll cover principles and methods that will help you choose trees that will fit well both in your yard and within the climate limitations of our area. Next week, you’ll enjoy the wisdom and knowledge that two of my great gardening friends and tree experts have attained. We’ll gain insights from Gary Fawson — main organizer and implementer of Grantsville’s Tree USA program. If that isn’t enough, Wade Anderson, of Tooele Valley Nursery, will share his thoughts and experience about what works well here.
This is all part of our emphasis on trees as we approach Arbor Day on Friday, April 25. The April 24 Garden Spot column will be dedicated to Arbor Day and community events that are happening during the following weekend. Because we have a very active gardening community, there are a variety of events happening in Stockton, Tooele and Grantsville! Also, don’t forget the dedication of the Larry A. Sagers Garden this coming Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. at the USU Tooele Extension offices at 151 N. Main. It will be great to be a part of this event with you.
Trees make an incredible difference in the overall appeal and enjoyment of both public and private spaces. Years ago, I had the good fortune to visit Melbourne, Australia. British influence is strong there, along with their affinity for parks. I walked through many grounds with towering trees, some dating back to near the founding of the city in 1835. The environment those majestic trees created appealed to both animals and humans alike. Property values are higher adjacent to well-maintained public spaces, as any owner of property neighboring New York City’s Central Park can attest to!
I’ve heard it said, “the time to plant a tree is now!” There’s quite a bit of wisdom in that simple statement. The sooner you plant desirable trees, the faster you will enjoy the shade, sound, scent and sanctuary they provide. Yes, you can buy larger trees and plant them, but you will pay a significant price for them, and there is a lot of work that goes along with this approach. This includes handling heavy trees and root balls, transportation challenges, digging and amending large planting holes and putting in support structures until the trees are rooted sufficiently to withstand wind. You can also buy property with mature trees on it, but why not work to improve what you already have? Not only will you benefit, but the community will as well.
Let’s look at some common tree planting “boo-boos.” First, there is a tendency to over-depend on quick growing trees. Second, many trees are planted too close to each other or to structures. Third, not knowing the growth habits of the tree can lead to some real exasperation later.
Let’s start with fast growers. Examples of these include cottonwoods, catalpas, globe willows and aspens. I’ve become a moderate and slow growth tree guy myself, especially after learning some hard lessons about using fast growers almost exclusively. There’s a saying among tree specialists. “Fast is Trash” does a blunt job of describing the problems of rapid growers. While I enjoy shade sooner than later as much as the next guy, why grow something that will be problematic ongoing? Fast growers are notoriously weak wooded. Because of this, they will shed a lot of moderated sized limbs, and will be prone to wind damage. This is not good when you’ve put one of these trees within 30 to 50 feet of your house or outbuilding. It takes a lot of sap for a tree to grow fast, and this too leads to problems. Fissures and wounds in the bark attract wasps, birds and other sugar lovers, as well as creating breeding sites for mold, fungi and disease. Almost all of my cotton-less cottonwood trees have had slime flux, and the dead branches and central leaders that result from it. I’m not saying don’t use these trees at all. I am saying diversify and be careful where you do place these trees. Fast growers are relatively short-lived; slow and moderate growers generally live longer and will provide canopy to multiple generations. Next week, we’ll give you several great options to choose from.
Another common mistake is to plant trees and shrubs too close to the house or other structures as well as too close together. Close planting is used many times in landscaping for model homes because it gives the appearance of a mature landscape. However, this will lead to crowding for the trees and shrubs, as well as for you — the caretaker. It is better to take the long view and plant farther apart, keeping mature sizes in mind. Even if spacing is adequate from one tree or shrub to the other, plantings too close to the house or structures are problematic. There are safety issues when the trees grow up and become at risk of falling on structures. There are also home security concerns when close plantings to a house provides a hiding place for a potential intruder. That’s something to think about! Lastly, those shrubs and trees have root systems and if too close to the house or concrete slabs and sidewalks, can cause heaving or cracking of sidewalks, driveways and even home foundations. Many a septic system or main pipe connection to the city sewer system has been clogged by an invasion of roots. Trees and shrubs will go searching for where there is a good supply of moisture and nutrients. You can’t eliminate all outside plumbing risks, but you can minimize them with sparser plantings that will fill in later.
Lastly, it’s important to know how the tree will behave as it gets older. Like people, the older the tree gets, the more like itself it will become! If the tree creates deep shade and drops lots of acidic leaves to eliminate competition around it, you’ll be hard pressed to grow grass or enjoy other shrubs near it. If its propagation method is to put up lots of root seedlings, you’ll have to put in ongoing effort to avoid having a grove of one type of tree in your yard. Some trees protect themselves with long thorns. These are hard to prune, hard on the hands, and not so good on the little people in your life. Other characteristics to understand and help you decide whether a tree is acceptable or not are berries, seeds, pods, pollen production, mature size, shape and density of shade. What does the tree look like in the winter? Does it have interesting bark texture or color? Is it an evergreen or deciduous (loses its leaves in the fall)? Take all this into account as you make your choices.
If the tree is typically found in in mountainous areas, and is not adapted to the high desert, it may survive, but it’s unlikely it will thrive. In my rush to get trees planted when we built our house, and tempted by what was on sale at the store (which is a particularly poor selection method, but I bet you’ve done it too!), I planted a fair amount of Quaking Aspens. Sure they grow, but they are challenged by the heat. Every summer their leaves are sun-scorched and an unattractive light green, due to iron chlorosis. That’s what you get when you try to make a mountain tree grow on the valley floor.
Let’s not forget what regions of the country the tree or shrub is adapted to. Because many of us have lived in other parts of the country, it’s natural to want to plant some of the trees that we enjoyed. While there are trees that will grow in a wide range of conditions, there are many that won’t. Factors such as soil and water pH, soil make up (can you spell C-L-A-Y?), summer and winter temperatures, and humidity determine what will do well here and what won’t. Because of the wide varieties of trees and the growing conditions that each of them require, good sources of information on what will grow well here are invaluable. Just as Clint Eastwood said in Dirty Harry, “a man’s gotta know his limitations,” so it is in the gardening craft. You and I can’t remember everything, but we can remember where to get good information. The Sunset Western Garden Book is my “go-to” well of knowledge. Another great resource is to use www.treebrowser.org. This is an interactive tool published by USU. Simply provide desired characteristics in four major categories, and the browser will give you a list of trees for your consideration that work well in northern Utah. I like it when my tax dollars work hard! I bet you will too.
UPCOMING GARDENER EVENTS
Larry Sagers Memorial Garden Dedication
Saturday, April 12, 2 p.m., Master Garden, USU Extension Offices, 151 N. Main, Tooele. There will be a commemoration of gardening community contributions by Larry Sagers, dedication of the garden, and installation of the remembrance plaque. Light refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Patty Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 435-277-2409.
Monthly Gardener’s Breakfast Get-Together
Saturday after next, April 19, 9-11 a.m., held at the Stockton Miners Café, 47 North Connor (the Main Street) in Stockton. Current gardening topics, challenges, successes, and collective advice will be shared. Admission is the price of whatever you order off the menu! This month, join us for a garden tour after breakfast of the Durtschi Residence — a world-class daffodil and bulb garden in Stockton! For more information, contact email@example.com or call 435-830-1447.
Pesticide License and Applicator Class
Tuesday, April 22, 6-9 p.m. Complete this free class to obtain your license ($20 fee) that allows you to purchase and apply restricted materials for various pest and weed controls. For more information call Linden Greenhalgh, 435-277-2407, or Jerry Caldwell, Tooele County Weed Supervisor, at 435-830-7273.
New Horizons Garden Center, Saturday, May 3, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Located on the Southeast corner of state Route 36 and Bates Canyon Road. Classes on water-wise and adapted plants, garden planning assistance, spotlights on new offerings and legacy plants. For more information, contact Faye Millican at 435-840-0888, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at email@example.com. Visit his website at dirtfarmerjay.com for videos and articles on gardening, shop skills, culinary arts and landscaping.