How Not to Plant Trees for a Successful Garden


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Sometimes the best way to successfully plant trees isn’t by learning about the right way to do things, but by learning from mistakes commonly made by others. Here are some of the major mess ups I’ve seen when it comes to planting trees. Avoid these and you are likely to end up with healthy, happy trees that look fabulous in your landscape.

1. Don’t plant a tree just because you like how it looks in a container. Many trees have different shapes or even leaf forms when they reach maturity.

2. Give it space! Don’t forget the tree you are buying is still a baby. Before planting it, find out how big your tree will grow when mature. So many trees look sweet and lovely when young, but quickly outgrow their allotted space, wreaking havoc on everything that surrounds them as their roots and branches spread.

This applies not only to planting trees too close to structures or functional areas of your landscape, but also to allowing sufficient space between trees. Planting them too close to each other will make them fight for light, root space and nutrients, usually resulting in weak, deformed, disease-prone trees. If you want a full look while your young trees grow in, fill in with expendable shrubs.

3. Don’t buy a root-bound tree. Just because you are getting a really big tree in a small container at the nursery or garden center doesn’t mean you are getting a wonderful deal with the smaller pot price. If roots are deforming themselves in too small a space, they may be unable to spread out once planted and the tree will never grow into the surrounding soil. A tree that will not live is no bargain!

4. Don’t plant the wrong tree in the wrong space. For example, don’t plant trees that will drop a lot of foliage, petals or seeds into nearby swimming pools or ponds. Or plant highly flammable trees like pines near your house in a wildfire prone area. Don’t expect a tree that naturally thrives stream side to grow well in a drought-tolerant garden. Don’t miss an opportunity for shade either. Trees planted on the south or west side of a structure will cast cooling shade, a respite from the hot summer sun.

5. Don’t mix styles. Plant trees from similar habitats together for the most attractive look. For example, don’t plant pines and palms (woodland and tropical effects) together. They just don’t work. Avoid mixing large and small trees. Smaller trees can be used in groups or singly. Plant large trees where they can show off by themselves.  Don’t polka-dot different trees all over the landscape. Trees naturally grow in communities. Polka-dots look better on fabrics.

6. Plan ahead where you will grow your trees. I have seen so many struggling and poorly placed trees — some displacing walkways, cracking swimming pools and even lifting house foundations.

Keep some of these suggestions in mind so your trees grow into beautiful, long-living assets in your landscape.

Photo credits: Jane Gates

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