Planting a tree is not as simple as you might think.
Drive to the store — any big box discount store will do — pick out a nice looking tree, dig a hole, plop it in and let nature take care of the rest. Right?
Try to go about it that way, and you’ll soon be calling someone like Mike Hennas to come rescue your ailing sapling.
Hennas is a certified arborist, who made a 16-year long career out of what was once a summer job. Now, with business partner Dan Tremblay, he helps run Broad Oak Tree and Shrub Care Inc. out of Peterborough.
If a tree needs help, it’s Hennas’ job to try and fix it. “We take care of just about any aspect of a tree. Anything you can do to a tree, I can do,” says Hennas.
From pruning, insect and pest management, disease control and soil improvement to actually removing trees, if there is a tree-related problem chances are he can solve it.
In nearly two decades’ worth of tree experience, Hennas has seen homeowners make the same mistakes over and over when planting trees. To avoid digging up what you just planted, there are some key things you can do (and not do) when sprucing up your yard with a new tree.
First of all, digging a hole is more precise than it sounds.
“People tend to dig too deeply,” says Hennas. “Making sure they’re planted at the correct depth is critical. It’s huge.”
Don’t try to shoehorn the tree into a tiny hole, either; roots need room to spread out.
Secondly, don’t leave their early growth entirely in the hands of Mother Nature. Making sure they’re watered properly, says Hennas, is just as important as planting them correctly. In other words, don’t depend on rain to do your job for you. A good rule, he adds, is to plan one year of aftercare for every inch of your new tree’s diameter.
It’s also good to remember, says Hennas, that trees are meant for the forest and not your lawn. To make them feel more at home, make sure you add about two or three inches of mulch to simulate the forest floor. While mulching is key, he adds, don’t smother the tree. Leave it some breathing room by making sure not to use too much or mulch right up against the trunk.
“Trees are a lot like children,” says Hennas. “Take care of them when they’re young and they’ll grow up right.”
Something that might seem like common sense that often slips past homeowners, says Hennas, is making sure to buy a healthy tree.
To avoid sickly saplings, he advises, drive straight past the big-box stores and find a reputable nursery. The money you spend now can potentially save you much more down the road.
“The big-box stores always get the plants other people rejected,” warns Hennas. “You can get a good tree, but you’d have to be lucky.”
Additionally, make sure you buy a tree that will thrive in New Hampshire’s climate. Don’t worry if you can’t tell a maple from an oak, let alone know what types of trees grow where, nurseries make sure to include which zones their trees can grow in, based on winter heartiness. New Hampshire, says Hennas, is mostly in zone five, while some of the colder northern areas move into zone six.
For example, explains Hennas, there are only two types of peach trees suited to New England weather, but most discount stores will sell up to six varieties shipped up from warmer locations. You can avoid buying a tree that will die in cold weather by asking which zone it belongs in.
Another common mistake is leaving the wire basket and burlap wrapped around the roots. Many times, says Hennas, he’s removed dying trees only to find their roots fatally entwined with wire or a synthetic, plastic-based burlap that will not break down naturally. An advantage to buying a tree at a nursery, he adds, is that many choose to use organic burlap that will decompose.
The final mistake Hennas often sees are trees simply planted in the wrong spot. A way to avoid this, he says, is to know how large your tree will grow and plant it an appropriate distance from other trees and buildings.
Ideally, says Hennas, homeowners should consult an arborist before planting trees. Though it’s not always necessary, he adds, arborists can perform soil tests to make sure you’ve chosen a suitable location.
“You have to know where you want to go before you get started,” says Hennas. A good plan can save a lot of time.
If you are going to hire an arborist, either for a consultation or other tree work — make sure he or she is certified, advises Hennas. Both Hennas and Tremblay are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and are each accredited organic land care professionals. To find a certified arborist in your area, you can go to the ISA’s Web site (www.isa-arbor.com) or to the University of New Hampshire’s Cooperative Extension Web site (www.extension.unh.edu). The forestry section at UNH’s site also includes a number of helpful publications and tips on tree care specific to New Hampshire.
The Cooperative Extension also provides information on trees to avoid. Some species, says Hennas, are either invasive or in danger from a particular pest. The Russian Olive, Burning Bush and Norway Maple are all invasive varieties and will spread rapidly into the wild once planted, edging out native species. The Hemlock, while not harmful, is threatened by a nasty bug called the hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect new to New Hampshire that could kill any hemlocks you plant. NH
Expanding Your Landscape Palette
Despite our challenging plant growing climate, New Hampshire gardens could easily reflect a greater variety of landscape plants, especially trees. As dependable and useful as many of our old standards may be, plants that are lesser known can add spectacular beauty to your landscape. The following trees were selected for multi- or extended-season appeal, reduced maintenance, minimal pest problems and good winter hardiness, as suggested by the UNH Extension Office.
Eastern Redbud,Cercis canadensis
An understory tree native to areas south of New Hampshire, the eastern redbud is noted for its early, abundant, rosy-pink flowers and graceful, upright habit. The large, heart-shaped leaves emerge as reddish-purple and gradually change to a lustrous dark green. The foliage turns a mediocre yellow in the fall and usually drops quickly. Clusters of dark-brown pods may persist through the winter. The tree is best used as a specimen, planted in masses or naturalized at the woods edge.
Buy plants propagated from northern seed sources and avoid the frequently less-hardy cultivars which are available in white and true pink (10-20 feet height; 15-20-foot spread).
Star Magnolia,Magnolia stellata
Hardy throughout New Hampshire, the star magnolia forms a dense, mounded, large shrub or small tree reaching 20 feet. The large white, star-like flowers appear in early April before the foliage emerges.
Japanese Tree Lilac,Syringa reticulata
The Japanese tree lilac is a tough, adaptable, trouble-free small tree with a rounded-to-spreading growth habit. It is noted for its large, showy, creamy white clusters of flowers which appear in mid-June, about three to four weeks after the common lilac has bloomed. The dark green foliage may turn a translucent yellow in the fall and is not overwhelming. The shiny, reddish brown, cherry-like bark which develops on the trunk and larger branches add winter interest. This lilac tolerates a wide range of growing conditions and is recommended for street tree use (20-30 feet height; 15-25-foot spread).
Japanese Stewartia,Stewartia pseudocamellia
This slow-growing, 20-40-foot upright oval tree is possibly one of the best small trees for the garden. Surprisingly hardy, the showy white flowers are accented by orange anthers and occur over a three-week period in July.
Sargent Cherry,Prunus sargentii
One of the largest and hardiest of the cherries, this medium-sized shade tree reaches 40 feet and features showy, deep pink blooms followed by lustrous green foliage. The round-headed crown sports bronze to reddish fall foliage, and the trunk is a polished chestnut brown bark. A narrow, columnar variety, Columnaris is also available. Sargent Cherry is one of the better Prunus species for New Hampshire, where the choice of cherries is often limited.
River Birch,Betula nigra
The salmon-colored bark of the native river birch peels off in paper-thin layers. The tree is noted for its ability to grow in wet soils, but it will grow in drier situations once established. It is far more resistant to insects than the white birches. Heritage is a highly recommended cultivar (40-70 feet in height; 40- 60-foot spread).
This article appears in the March 2007 issue of New Hampshire Magazine