Deb Babcock: How to plant a tree

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Find a list of trees and shrubs recommended for Routt County yards and gardens at http;//rcextension.colostate.edu/hort/trees.shtml.

Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

Besides providing beauty to our yard and garden, trees offer lots of other benefits like:

■ Giving shade to a part of the house that gets blasted by our hot sun.

■ Providing a bit of a wind break from some of those Wyoming-like gusts that come through our mountains occasionally.

■ Providing protection and a home for birds.

-Expelling oxygen into the air.

■ Helping prevent erosion of the soil.

■ Shading other plants that can’t take the sun.

■ Producing fruit and seeds.

■ Emitting a wonderful aroma.

■ Providing wintertime interest.

As you think about what kinds of trees you’d like to plant in your yard this year, consider the purposes you wish that tree to meet from the list above. Certain trees are better for windbreaks than others. Some trees are much better at providing shade. Others are great attractors for birds. Some flower and produce fruit. Others flower without producing fruit. Some have trunks and branches with wonderfully vibrant color and shapes that look great against the white snow.

Next, consider space and size. Because some of the trees that grow well in our Zone 3 or 4 environment are slow growers, think about how many years it might take for it to reach the size that is going to meet your needs. Other trees are fast growers, so you might be able to get away with smaller and less expensive trees that still meet your needs.

Also be sure to check the information on the tree tag that tells you how high and how wide the tree will grow at maturity so that you are sure to give it a spot in your yard that is large enough. An immature tree planted right next to the house will look wonderful for a few years, until it starts to block your view and starts to fail because of cramped conditions for its roots and branches.

Once you’ve chosen the trees you want to plant, next prepare the soil in which you will be placing it. Be sure to amend the soil so it offers the roots of your new tree good drainage and access to oxygen and easy pathways through soft soil. This can be done by tilling the soil and mixing in some compost or organic matter. That will help break up the heavy clay found in most of our soils here in Routt County.

Organic matter includes decomposed compost, well-rotted manure from horses, cows and barnyard animals, peat moss and the like.

Dig the hole for your new tree at least twice the size of the root ball and exactly the depth of the root ball. When you place the tree in the hole, the top of the root ball should be level with the ground. Too high or too low in the soil and you’re going to stress the tree because its roots will have a hard time accessing the nutrients, water and oxygen needed to survive.

If the tree comes in a pot of any kind or wrapped in wire or burlap, be sure to remove all wrappings. We don’t have moist enough conditions here to decompose cardboard, burlap or any other coverings which will cramp the roots and eventually lead to the death of your tree.

Early spring before buds start to open is the best time to plant trees in Routt County, and the autumn just as trees are starting to go dormant is second best. Spring plantings give the trees a full growing season to begin to establish roots and become acclimated to the soil. Fall plantings ensure the trees are in the ground and ready to soak up water and nutrients just as soon as the snow begins to melt.

Once you’ve placed your tree in the hole you dug, shovel soil back into the hole and lightly tamp down so you remove large air pockets. Use the butt end of your shovel to form a small reservoir or dike around the rim of the hole and water well to help the roots get over the shock of the transplant.

Mulch around the plants up to about six inches from the trunk; this helps hold in moisture and warmth. If the tree is large, you might need to stake the tree for the first season so that winds won’t knock it over while it is establishing a wider root system.

Do not fertilize or prune the newly planted tree until the second growing season.

Deb Babcock is a volunteer master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email csumgprogram@co.routt.co.us with questions.

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