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Tree planting time

Fall planting allows trees time to thrive before the summer heat

Posted: November 21, 2008 9:28 p.m.
Updated: November 22, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Richard Green of Green Landscape Nursery points out the fall foliage colors on a crape myrtle tree. Area nurseries also recommend liquid amber and ginkgo biloba trees for the Santa Clarita Valley.

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Boys, I have your Thanksgiving-Friday activity right here. While the ladies are battling crowds at the mall, and in between your leftover turkey munching and college football watching, you can plant a tree.

Yup, it will give you a chance to pump some oxygen into your sedentary system during what is expected to be a cool and kinda cloudy day. It's a great family-bonding activity and will also create a source of memories for Thanksgivings for years to come: "Why, I remember when we planted that tree. It was at Thanksgiving time. I think you were 6 years old then, son."

The best part is, this is the perfect time of year to stick a tree in the dirt. That's right, fall is better than spring. Take it from our local nursery experts.

"When you plant while the tree is dormant, the roots recover before growing time in the spring," said Dan Garbe, the nursery manager at Green Thumb International in Newhall.

Richard Green, owner of Green Landscape Nursery in Saugus, echoed the thought. "It's the best time of the year. Our cold doesn't really affect them. The nice thing is that they have six to seven months before the next 105 degree day," Green said. "They develop enough root system to handle the extreme arid heat of our summers and grow into it instead of having a detrimental reaction to it."

Thank a tree
So, you get your shade, you get your aesthetics and you do your part to reduce greenhouse gasses.

Planting a tree might give you more reason to be thankful than your bird and stuffing. And on a seasonal note, many deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves each year) are now showing their brilliant fall colors. You can get a good idea of just how that tree will look during your future Thanksgivings.

What kind?
Both Green and Garbe agreed that good deciduous trees for our climate (and for fall color) include liquid amber, ginkgo biloba and Chinese pistache. Green liked crape myrtle, "girly ash" and raywood ash as well.

Garbe added some trees that don't drop their leaves seasonally, including bottle trees, strawberry trees and camphor trees.

Chinese pistache: "It's a lollipop-shaped tree," Green said. "She's a beaut, with fall colors of fire orange and red." The tree has noninvasive roots and will take drought and our alkaline soil really well.

Garbe said the Chinese pistache is good for smaller areas and that the city of Santa Clarita recommends this type of tree.

Liquid amber: "It offers incredible colors for the fall - red, yellow, burgundy," Garbe said. He felt it was suitable to larger areas, growing 50 to 60 feet high and 20 feet wide.

"It's a columnar-growing tree," Green said. Liquid amber comes in different color combinations. One is burgundy, others have yellow, orange and red.

Ginkgo biloba: Garbe said this tree can grow up to 70 feet high and turns bright yellow before the leaves drop.

Green said it is a beautiful tree, but, "It takes some time to get her where you want her to be. She's kind of slight when young."

Dig a hole
If you have your tree, soil amendments, hose and shovel ready this Friday, your whole tree-planting event should take you less than an hour. (Don't tell the wife!) Assuming your tree is the type waiting in a five-gallon bucket or less, it's really a one- or, at best, a two-man operation. You can let your useless brother-in-law hang around and think he's helping. Include the kids and you have a bonding and learning experience. When your hour of service to your yard and the environment is done, you can step back, pour out a little for the homies, and admire your good work. Then go back inside the house for football.

The only possible clinker here is if your dirt has too much dry clay and/or rocks to dig easily with a shovel. You might need to chop-in with a pick-mattock and employ some water-softening of the ground. This can get messy. But the kids will love the splashing mud and your wife will realize, from your bespattered clothing, just how hard you worked. Of course, you can always make your brother-in-law do the dirty work instead.

Garbe said that (for the trees discussed here) you should locate your tree where it gets at least five hours of direct sunlight each day. The hole for your tree should be twice as wide as the container the tree's root ball comes in. You dig the hole only as deep as necessary to have a slight mound of the root ball above soil level when you are done. This accounts for settling over time. "The mound helps with the drainage, to move water out to the drip line of the tree," Garbe said.

"The crown is the really sensitive part of the tree," he added. "The fastest way to kill one of these is to get the dirt higher than the root ball. The bark can rot away with the cambium layer (the living, water- and nutrient-transport layer)."

Garbe said cutting into a tight root ball to loosen things up is not a good idea, as it does unnecessary root damage. He said to add about 20 percent soil amendment to the natural soil. You can raise a ring of mounded soil around the edges of your hole to serve as a water-holding basin. You can tamp things down with your hands, but not too firmly.

Don't worry about the clay surrounding your hole. "Most trees aren't going to mind clay as long as it doesn't stay wet," Garbe said. "Once the amendments are gone it has to live in your native soil. It will have to get used to it."

Additionally, he said to keep the soil clear of grass from the tree trunk out to at least a three-foot radius.

Wet and dry
Garbe said to water your tree heavily after you plant it, then let it dry out a bit. The more clay in the soil, the longer between waterings. "Immediately after planting, water, then water on a regular one- or two-week schedule." When the tree is dormant, this can be three to four weeks.

Green offered the "10 minute rule." Under this rule, you water slowly until the mounded basin you created around your tree is full. Then wait 10 minutes. Fill the basin again, as many times as necessary, until the water is not sucked away into the soil during the 10-minute period.

So, why not plant a tree Friday? If you pick out and pick up your tree and its fixin's this weekend, you won't have to go a-driving during mall mania day. You wife will let you stay home, knowing you have something productive planned. You can sleep in, eat your tryptophan, drink your beer, watch your football, nap a few times and still do something positive. It's just a good thing all around.

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