How to Plant Trees Locally
It’s great to participate in this campaign by donating, but what if you want to see the results right in your own community too? Here are some ideas about how you can plant trees locally.
You can plant trees on your own property, which will add beauty, increase privacy, potentially produce food, attract wildlife, clean the air, provide oxygen, improve water drainage, and increase your property value.
If you are renting, you could explain to your landlord all the benefits trees provide and offer to do tree planting for them. They may even deduct the cost of the tree from your rent. Enjoy the tree while you live there, and pay it forward to the next renters if you move. Or consider planting dwarf trees in large pots you can take with you.
You can also get involved with tree planting projects that are happening in your area by contacting your local government, neighborhood associations, land management, watershed management and environmental restoration organizations, to see where volunteers are needed. Do some searching on the web to see who’s planting in your area and how you can get involved.
How to Plant Your Own Trees
Spend some time at the location you want to plant your trees. Evaluate the space and consider what kind of trees you want: fruit, nut, fall color, evergreen, or ornamental. We recommend fruit or nuts when possible, because free organic food just rocks! Planting trees native to your region will provide the keystone elements for restoring your local ecosystem, which will draw and support wildlife that ornamental trees would not.
What SIZE trees will work with that location? Most fruit trees can be purchased as full size, semi-dwarf, and dwarf. The smaller the tree, the easier it is to harvest the fruit and prune it. Semi-dwarf trees are a little more work, but they can produce a lot more fruit. Planting tall trees is a great option when you want to create shade, increase privacy, grow wood for future harvesting and replanting or provide a windbreak. Consider how tall and how wide your tree will get over time to plan the best planting location.
How much SUNLIGHT will the trees get? Fruit and nut trees require the most sun and are most likely to need some watering over the summer. You probably need 5-8 hours of direct sun to get the most abundant harvests. There are also trees that thrive with no direct sunlight, so find the right trees for the space you are working with. Read the tags on the trees at the nursery to learn the light and watering requirements for each species. There are an amazing variety of trees to choose from. Did you know that there are over 7,500 species of apple trees alone?
What is the SOIL like? Is it soft, wet, compact, rocky? The darker the soil is, the more alive it is with microorganisms that help trees and other plants grow. If your soil is more tan than brown, you will need to add extra amendments like compost or manure to help improve the soil. Planting the right type of tree in a wet spot in your yard will help the water drain into the earth. Tree roots also break up compact soils and can improve soils over time. The dark material in rich soil is dead plant matter like leaves, sticks and roots that have composted, so generally the more plants you have growing the better your soil will be. This is as long as you don’t remove the dead plant matter.
Where is the closest WATER supply? Most fruit and nut trees will require some watering over the summer, whereas most other trees will only need to be watered during their first summer. After that their roots will have gone deep enough to sustain from the available groundwater. Staying within the reach of a hose is most convenient, but carrying water in buckets or watering cans is an option as well. For trees you will water every summer, the most time and water efficient method is putting in a drip watering system. If you are in a drought area, research drought tolerant trees and plants. You can even plant a rain garden that requires very little water and holds the available moisture efficiently. These techniques are common in places like California and Australia.
Take into account all of these factors when choosing your tree varieties.
Planting in the dormant season is generally best, so late fall through early spring. This gives the tree’s roots time to grow and get established before it puts it’s energy into putting out leaves and growing up towards the sun. If you plant when the tree is not dormant, just make sure to water it more thoroughly the first year, since it’s roots won’t be as developed.
You can usually find the best trees at small local nurseries or garden centers. They are often 3 to 8 feet tall and sold with the root ball in a sack or a pot.
You can also find tree saplings in 1-gallon pots at certain nurseries. Call around in your area to find out who sells saplings. If the nursery you call doesn’t sell them, ask them if they can tell you who does. Bare root trees can even be ordered online.
To plant your trees you will need: a shovel, planting mix/soil, compost or manure, peat moss, mulch and a hose or watering can. We also recommend gardening gloves, kneepads and straps to stake up your tree.
There are lots of different methods for planting trees. Here's a general outline that will work for most trees:
1. Prepare your planting mix. Combine soil (50%), manure (25%), and compost (25%) in a wheelbarrow and mix thoroughly. If possible, also add mycorrhizal fungi, earthworm castings, and/or other soil additives that contain living soil micro-organisms.
2. Dig a hole that is as deep as your new tree’s root ball, and 2-3 times as wide.
3. With the tree still in it’s container, place it into the hole. It’s very important to make sure that the tree is at the right depth in the hole. It needs to be precisely level with the ground so that the flare where the trunk meets the roots is not above or below the soil line. Make sure that the soil underneath the tree is packed down tightly so it doesn’t settle over time. Remove the tree and adjust the soil amount until it sits at the perfect depth. This is a great time to decide which way you want the tree to be facing as well.
4. Now remove the tree roots from it’s container and any other fabric, wire, plastic or string that might be containing it. If the roots are wrapped around the edges of the container, it’s usually helpful to straighten them, cut them, or remove them.
5. Place your tree in the hole, holding it from it’s roots, not the trunk. Snug it down into place. Gently start filling in the hole with your planting mix. Pack the first layer in around the bottom of the tree gently with your hands. Add more mix and pack it down again. When the hole is completely filled, do one last hand packing, adding or removing soil to get the level even with the ground around it.
6. Cover the area of the hole with a 2-4 inch layer of mulch such as bark, compost or wood chips. Leave an empty circle in the center so that the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree, which could lead to bark decay (which could kill the tree). The mulch will help hold in moisture and will also keep weeds back.
7. Water your new tree thoroughly. This first watering is the most important because it helps the soil to settle, removing air bubbles that could dry the roots out. Water it to the point of saturation and let the water soak in. Water it again like this 2-3 more times.
8. Celebrate the new addition to your habitat!
Care for Your Trees
Most trees don’t require much attention. Watering them during the summer of the first year you plant them is usually all that is needed. However many trees that are not native to your region, usually food producers and ornamental trees, will require watering every summer. Fruit and nut trees also need to be pruned, preferably yearly, to help train their shape and to increase their production. Organic vegetable based oil sprays can be applied to fruit trees while they are dormant in the winter to kill the eggs of insects that can damage your fruit crops.
If you have any problems with your trees, you can often collect a branch or leaf that has been affected, and bring it into your local nursery to get the advice of plant care experts. With a little care, you can expect your trees to grow, flourish and remain as your legacy for hundreds of years to come.