As a certified arborist, I guess you could call me a professional tree hugger. I recently attended the International Society of Arboriculture conference and I have a lot to share with you about trees. This is the final blog of my 3 part series.
In the first part, I elaborated on the importance of trees and how they impact us and our planet. In the second, I discussed what types of trees are useful and how to choose the right one for your landscape. Now I want to explore the process of planting the right tree in the right spot. Choosing the best tree for your garden is one thing, but putting it where it will thrive is its own battle.
When choosing the best spot for your tree, you need to start by thinking big. Let’s consider the broadest category first: geography. In Georgia we have mild winters, cool springs and falls, and very long hot, humid summers. Rainfall is fairly substantial, with 75 inches a year in the northern parts and 50 in the more southern regions. According to Gilmour.com, “Georgia’s planting zones fall into a range from 6a to 9a, with the bottom half of the state overwhelmingly warmer.” You can click on their website to find out exactly what growing zone you are in.
A number of trees do very well in the Georgia hardiness zones. Here is a list of the top 50 Atlanta trees that are prime for planting in the North Georgia area. Sometimes nature is simple. Most of the trees on this list are native which is why they do so well. However, sometimes things are a little more interesting. Trees like the trident maple are Asian-native but still make the list because they thrive in the southeastern environment without harming the local ecosystem.
Another criteria to consider is the height and width of the spot you want to plant your tree. Remember to always think ahead. How tall will your tree grow? How wide will its canopy spread? Will it be bumping into anything once it’s fully grown?
Shade and Soil
One of the most important things to consider when planting a tree is the environmental conditions of the location.
Sunlight Exposure: Assess the amount of direct sunlight at the plant site and look at how it changes throughout the day. How long does the direct exposure last and is it the majority of the day? Are there buildings or other trees shading the area? These questions will help you dictate the best location for your tree based on whether the spot gets full sun, partial shade, or full shade.
Soil type: Here is where geography comes into play again. Georgia has lots of different soil types including its iconic red clay, agricultural and industrial soils, piedmont region, and coastal plain soil. This would also be something you might want to research based on where you live in Georgia. Once you know your soil type, it might be worth it to do some testing. Note the color of the soil and how it feels in your hand. Is it easy to dig through? Does it fall apart easily? How moist is it? These observations will help you identify the prime spot in your yard for your new tree.
Here are some native trees I recommend:
Mockernut hickory – Carya tomentosa grows up to 100’ tall and produces gray bark and enormous leaves. “Mockernuts produce the hardest wood of all hickories, making it commonly used in furniture and tool production. In the Fall, Mockernut’s deep yellow Fall color is equally showy to that of blackgum and maple species. Squirrels, mice, and deer enjoy their nuts, while many moth species rely on its leaves for food.” This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
American Persimmon – Diospyros virginiana grows up to 60’ tall and is known for its unique fruit and stunning red and orange fall colors.This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
Beech tree – Fagus grandifolia growns up to 120’ tall in the wild. Its beautiful leaves reflect the sun and turn golden in winter time. The yellowish orange color is complemented by the tree’s smooth, dark bark. “…beech is one of, if not the last tree species to arrive through natural succession in Eastern deciduous forests.” This tree enjoys shade/part sun.
Downy serviceberry – Amelanchier arborea can reach heights of 25’ and 15’ in canopy spread. It’s prolific fruit service (hence the name) squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, mice, and at least 40 bird species. This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
Pawpaw – Asimina triloba grows less than 25’ and does well in naturalized, riparian, or woodland areas. It is a flowering tree that attracts butterflies, pollinators, small mammals, and songbirds, which makes pawpaw a good addition to a butterfly, pollinator, or rain garden. Flies and beetles are attracted to the flower of the tree and are beneficial pollinators that contribute to the foul odor of the flower. Pawpaws boast unique wedge-shaped leaflets and fruit that tastes like a blend of mango, melon, and banana. This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
Witch Hazel – Hamamelis vernaslis grows 6-10’ tall and is a native, tough, durable plant. It is easy to grow in both sun and partial shade but flowers are best in full sun. It tolerates clay soils as long as the drainage is good. Although it is drought tolerant, it does best with consistent moisture and may suffer from leaf scorch in hot, dry summers. It spreads by root suckers which should be pruned to restrain colonization. This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
American Holly – Ilex opaca grows up to 60’ in the right conditions but usually reaches heights of 20-30’. It features a variety of color over the seasons including bright red berries and deep green foliage in the winter and creamy white flowers in the spring. This tree enjoys sun/part shade.
Hornbeam – Ostrya virginiana grows 20 to 30’ tall. “As it is usually found growing in dry soils of rocky and upland slopes, it makes a great drought-tolerant urban tree. The non-showy April flowers give way to drooping clusters of seed pods that resemble the common hops used in bitter beers. Alternatively referred to as Ironwood for its strong, dense wood, which is covered by light brown to reddish-brown bark divides into thin scales that peel away from the trunk.” This tree enjoys shade/part sun.
Redbud – Cercis canadensis reaches heights up to 25′ and has simple, heart-shaped leaves with bark that is initially smooth and brown, but later becomes dark gray, ridged and furrowed/scaly. “As redbuds have been cultivated and crossed over the years, its leaves can take on various colors, from deep purple (‘Merlot’) to variable oranges, reds and yellows (‘Rising Sun’). The tree’s fruit is very showy, pea-like, pink- purple in color, clustering along stems in early spring. This tree enjoys shade/part sun.
One of the reasons I chose the neighborhood I currently live in is because of its dense canopy. We have tons of beautiful, mature trees in large empty lots and I love it. They are currently building 3 new homes here. One of the new homes has just had their initial grade work done. All the trees were pulled out except for two by the road. However, both of these trees are already severely damaged by the grading and tree removal company. This puts a fire in my soul.
This house (also in Dahlonega) shows what should be done to protect a tree. There is a buffer of at least 10’ away from the trunk of the tree in every direction. Depending on the size of the trunk, this could mean a 20 to 25′ diameter span. This practice is so important because large equipment compacts the soil around tree roots and destroys their ability to uptake air and nutrients.
These pictures show equipment right next to the tree and all the cut limbs right next to the trunk. You can also see that the bark has already been stripped. Both of these trees will not survive for very long. Case in point, this homesite will not have large trees in the front yard unless they plant them. And as we know, it takes a long time for a tree to mature. I strongly believe it is not that hard to build new homes and preserve the existing trees. Starting over with a new tree is costly and poor for the environment. I hope this is something that changes in construction soon.
Tree Huggers Unite!
So what comes first? The plant or the planting site? Depending on the needs of the situation, you might need to choose a tree that fits your location. Other times you might see a tree you really love and buy it without knowing where it will go yet (I don’t recommend this… don’t become a tree hoarder like some of my clients!) Whatever the case, just remember to consider every possibility and think of the future. We want to preserve our big beautiful carbon capturing trees while also planting new ones in places they will last and grow big as well. We want to make an impact on our earth while we are here. Planting and preserving trees is just one way we can help everyone in the present and in years to come.