Have you ever planted a tree and 20 years later been amazed at how much it has grown? Many years ago, I took white pine seedlings to my grandson’s preschool class and gave them instruction on planting the 3-year-old seedlings. Today, that tree stands more than 20 feet tall.
Trees provide us with many benefits necessary for survival, including clean water by preventing soil erosion and flooding, shade and food. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air.
In one year, an acre of trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people. Trees can also increase property values and improve our mental health.
Many soil and water conservation districts across Ohio hold tree seedling sales in the winter months for spring pick up. These programs offer the opportunity for individuals to develop small areas of reforestation, wildlife enhancement, or additions to home landscaping at an affordable cost.
Tree offerings are different at each SWCD but most of them are tree and shrub seedlings with bare roots. Most of the packets are about the size of a grocery bag with the tree roots wrapped to keep them moist.
Orders are generally taken from January through March with tree pick up sometime in April.
The right tree
Planting the right tree for your purpose is the first step in a successful planting. Although some general guidelines can be given, every situation is unique. Soil properties, moisture levels, and available light vary on every site.
Species to plant should be selected carefully based on site conditions, planting objectives, species requirements and diversity. Planting a diversity of species will limit potential negative impacts from unforeseen pest and disease outbreaks.
Most SWCD tree order forms have a chart that will give you this information for the species they are offering. Once you have purchased and picked up your seedlings, the best chance for survival is to plant them immediately.
Spring seedlings are at the end of their dormant season. Like all trees they need sunlight, carbon dioxide, oxygen and water to get a fresh start each spring.
The longer you wait to plant your trees the fewer will survive regardless of the care given. Planting trees directly into the ground is recommended. Planting your seedling in a pot will not allow the roots to develop as they should.
Other tips for planting bare root seedlings include:
1. Never let roots dry completely or leave seedlings immersed in water for long periods as they will drown. These are the most common causes of seedling death.
2. Make your planting hole deep enough to accommodate the roots. It is better to prune the roots with scissors than to wad or curl the roots to make them fit in your planting hole. Plant so that the roots are free, not cramped. Trim any broken roots. Do not trim the tap root.
3. Plant the seedling at same depth as it was in the nursery. Ground level should be where the roots stop and the stem begins.
4. Water thoroughly. Use only water soluble fertilizer with root stimulating ingredients.
5. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Dried grass clippings, ground up leaves or commercially available organic mulches will suppress weeds and hold in moisture.
6. Water your seedlings faithfully for the first two years.
Early ordering gives you the best chance to get the variety and amount of seedlings you want. Contact your local soil and water conservation district and ask about their tree seedling program. If they do not coordinate a local program they can give you the names of surrounding SWCDs that do.
Remember the old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”
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