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How to Plant a Tree

On Wednesday, April 19, 2023, Abbie Judice, Moncus Park Environmental Coordinator, organized this Conservation Club activity for members to learn about, and plant bare-root seedlings of native trees. The native trees were planted into a wooded area of the park previously infested with invasive plant species (see ANPP March 2023 newsletter). ANPP assisted in this park activity by providing tree seedlings and giving a general introduction to the ongoing restoration effort, the benefits of using native trees to restore the area, and basic guidelines for tree planting.

Benefits of Planting Native Trees

Planting native trees in Moncus Park or on your property benefits the environment in numerous ways:

  • In synthesizing carbohydrates by photosynthesis, trees take up CO2 and generate O2. This carbon is stored by trees in their woody tissue and belowground, which helps fight climate change. Recent studies show that trees also clean the atmosphere around cities by removing dust and air pollutants.

  • The roots of trees stabilize soils and thereby prevent soil erosion.

  • Planting and maintaining a natural buffer of native trees along coulees, bayous and other water bodies improves water quality not only by preventing soil erosion but also by filtering out sediment, fertilizers, and other pollutants in the runoff following rain events.

  • Planting trees on the South and West side of a home saves energy and reduces energy bills for the homeowner in Summer.

  • Recent studies document a reduction of stress and other psychological benefits to people who frequent forests and other natural areas.

  • Native trees are essential in the lives of native wildlife. They are used for shelter and nest sites, and the fruit produced by trees is eaten by numerous adult native birds and mammals. The leaves of native trees are used as food for caterpillars, the larval stage of lepidopterans (moths and butterflies). The caterpillars of most lepidopteran species will only eat and live on very specific plant species, and not all plants are used to the same extent by these caterpillars. Native plants are much more valuable than non-natives to caterpillars. For example, Oak trees serve as hosts to the caterpillars of more than 500 different species of moths or butterflies; Crape Myrtle, which is not native to the U.S., hosts about 2 species. Why is this important even if you don’t care about moths and butterflies? Well, the diets of young birds consist mostly of caterpillars. And a single nest of baby birds requires thousands of caterpillars during the few weeks between hatching and leaving the nest. Therefore, if you want birds to successfully nest on your property, use native trees there to supply the food needed by their young. Oaks are perhaps the most important link in the food chain between insects and birds.

How to Plant a Tree

Plan Ahead

  • Select the right tree for your site. Consider site exposure, soil type and moisture.

  • Choose the right location. Avoid planting trees too near homes and other structures; look out for overhead and below-ground utility lines. Base location on the size (height and diameter) of the tree at maturity.

  • Time of planting is important. Plant November through February to give plants time to establish before confronting our harsh summer conditions.

Prepare the Plant

Bare-root seedlings: trim the roots if necessary

Container-grown trees:

  • Unwrap and prune the roots of rootbound plants

  • Remove roots growing through the bottom of the pot

Prepare the Hole

Bare-root seedlings:

  • Use a planting dibble or sharpshooter shovel; push the device into the soil as deep as the length of the seedling’s tap root

  • Pull the tool toward you and then shove it away to create a V-shaped hole deep and wide enough to receive the seedling

Container-grown trees:

  • Dig a wide, shallow hole; the diameter of the hole should be twice that of the container; when the plant is placed into hole, the level of soil in the pot should be 1 – 2 inches above the soil level around the hole

Plant the Tree

  • Place the plant into the hole

  • For container-grown trees, return the soil to the hole around the plant; for bare-root seedlings, push the soil against the seedling with your foot or by using the dibble or sharpshooter

  • Water the planting area to remove any air pockets in the soil around the roots

  • Finish packing the soil around the plant

  • Add a layer of mulch, but avoid piling the mulch around the tree trunk

  • After mulching the tree, pull away any mulch that is against the base of the trunk

Follow Up

  • Fertilizer is not necessary for native trees, but if you must, don’t fertilize trees within the first year after planting

  • Water during extended dry periods through the tree’s first summer and fall

  • Continue to mulch for a few years

Conclusion

This effort by the Conservation Club and Moncus Park personnel should help to heal and speed up the recovery process in the area damaged by invasive plants. This restoration effort, however, must be sustained to fully restore the entire 23-acre wooded area of the park. Managing invasive species and adding native trees to fully restore the area will require lots of work to be successful, but certainly worth the effort. -Lawrence Rozas





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