Nothing like some strong winter winds to remind one of mortality — tree mortality.
No tree lives forever. Nothing does. But we humans sometimes don't appreciate trees' mortality, especially trees that are already large when we first meet them. They seem like they were here forever and will be here long after we're gone.
So when one of these oldsters topples, its wood hauled away and its stump chipped to oblivion, too often no thought is given to getting another venerable giant started. Or perhaps the void is filled with a small, fashionable crabapple or weeping cherry.
Instead, consider replacing a fallen giant with another giant-to-be. You may not be around to experience the tree you plant in all its glory, but someone will.
SMALL IS GOOD
For best results, plant a small nursery tree. More money and effort could be spent putting a larger tree into the ground, but larger trees take longer to establish themselves than do smaller trees. The root spread of a tree is more than two times the spread of its branches, so you can imagine the root loss a large tree experiences when it is dug with even a relatively large root ball.
Contrast the root loss of a 20-foot-high nursery tree with that of a 5-foot-high nursery tree; the smaller tree can replace its lost roots within a season. Transplanting checks the growth of trees until roots re-establish themselves, which explains why small nursery trees usually overtake their gargantuan counterparts after a few years.
MORE CHOICES, LESS CARE
Another advantage of smaller trees is that they are usually available in greater variety. And they're easy to ship. You'd have to look hard to find a hackberry, black tupelo or Kentucky coffeetree offered for sale within driving distance, let alone exotics such as Korean evodia, Japanese pagodatree, Asplenifolia European beech (whose leaves are fern-like) or European hornbeam. But somewhere, some mail-order nursery has one of these trees for sale, and if the tree is small it can be shipped almost anywhere.
Smaller trees also take up less of your time. They go into the ground quickly because only a small hole is needed, and then maintenance is minimal. Dramatic root loss at digging means that a large transplanted tree is going to need careful and prodigious watering for years, and probably will have to be staked for a couple of years.
ENCOURAGE A SEEDLING
Another source for a majestic tree for posterity are those seedlings ("volunteer" plants) that pop up here and there. Consider letting one of them just grow in place. The tree chose its own home, so it probably likes it there. Without transplant shock, a seedling tree will grow more quickly than would a transplanted one.
Do make sure, however, that you want a tree in that spot, and that you want that particular tree. A large tree needs a lot of space to spread its branches, so try to imagine that spread when considering proximity to your home. Some trees — Norway maple and tree-of-heaven, for example — are essentially weeds, and you don't want to let them get a foothold.
Even under the best conditions, decades will pass before a transplanted or volunteer tree becomes a venerable giant. No matter, though. The Chinese have a saying that "the longest journey begins with the first step," and watching growth of a tree brings its own pleasures.
Lee Reich, The Associated Press