Spring is a great time to think about planting a new tree. There are many good reasons: trees provide shade in the summer and wind protection in the winter, which keeps your house warm. The presence of trees can also increase the curb appeal and value of your property.
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And, of course, trees are great for improving air quality -- something that is especially important if you live in an urban area. One tree can remove 12kg of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere per year -- equal to about 18,000km of car emissions! There have also been studies showing that exposure to trees and greenery lowers stress. Simply having views of trees from your windows has been shown to improve focus and academic performance.
However, planting a tree is not as simple as sticking it in the ground and watching it grow. Like raising kids, tree-growing is full of old wives' tales, commonly held misbeliefs and accepted wisdom that's far from wise.
So, before you break out the shovel, check to see if your tree knowledge could use some pruning of its own.
Myth: Picking a tree native to my region is the most important factor when planting
This is partly true, but it's only one thing to consider, and it's not even the most important. Not all trees, even native species, will thrive in all environments. Before planting, have a look around your yard. Consider how much space you have, how much sunlight is available, and what the soil conditions are like in your area. In Toronto, for example, the soil tends to be alkaline and clay-like, which suits some trees more than others.
When in doubt, call an expert.
People in urban areas also need to assess how much of their surrounding area is paved, which will determine the state of the nearby soil and how deep roots can go. In some cases, if the area in which you're thinking of planting has seen heavy disturbance, either through renovations or yard work, planting may not be an option at all. When in doubt, call an expert.
Myth: Tree roots run deep
They can, but often don't. People often assume that if you could see into the ground, the roots of a tree would resemble the canopy, but turned upside down. In fact, while roots generally grow within a metre of the surface, physical conditions can have a big impact. Trees will grow wherever they can find water, air and nutrients. Sometimes deep, and sometimes very shallow.
This is important to know before you plant: be careful when digging into the soil anywhere near a tree, as you risk damaging roots you may have assumed were far deeper than they are.
Myth: New trees need a lot of mulch at the base to protect them
No. they don't. What's more, laying down a thick layer of mulch at the base is a good way to suffocate your tree. The "too much of a good thing" rule applies here -- mulch is useful, but make sure to leave a well around the base of the tree to allow it to breathe.
Myth: Trees must be watered at the base
This belief is as widespread as it is wrong. If you apply water only to the very base of the trunk, or the "root flare" as experts refer to it, you open your tree up to the possibility of root rot. The typical garden irrigation approach to watering -- courtesy of the standard hoses or sprinkler -- tends to focus solely on the first few inches of the soil. That's great for grass and flowers, but not for trees. Relying on a hose or sprinkler could mean losing up to half of the water to evaporation. It also adds to soil compaction, which is not a good thing for tree roots.
A small, awkward-looking tree may be a greater risk than an older but tall, straight tree.
The ideal solution is to invest in aeration tubes. If that's not possible, use a hose to water the tree at a slow rate over a long period of time and target the water away from the base of the trunk.
Myth: Bigger trees are at greater risk of falling
For some people, the sight of a huge tree casting a shadow over their home is not a comforting thought. But remember, trees are supposed to be tall and their size has no bearing on their likelihood to fall. Instead, study a tree for proper balance and form. A small, awkward-looking tree may be a greater risk than an older but tall, straight tree.
There are many factors to consider before you break the soil. Remember, even the perfect tree may not work for you if your property doesn't have the right conditions. Make sure to do your homework and, when in doubt, get the professional opinion of an expert who cares for trees for a living. That way, your hard work around the yard will pay off for years to come.
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