by Colleen Kenny, Upper Dublin Township
The snow may be falling outside, and you may be looking no further than a warm blanket at the end of the day. But this is the perfect time to begin planning for spring tree planting. In fact, many nurseries sell out of popular tree species by March, so early planning can ensure that your spring plantings run smoothly.
The first step in planning is to identify priority areas. I like to keep a running list of highest priority and second priority options for planting. On the highest priority list are areas with big aesthetic impact (such as building entrances), important functional needs (for example, providing shade to bleachers at sports fields), or important ecological areas. Stream corridors, in particular, benefit from added tree cover (called “forest buffers”). The greatest benefit for water quality is often seen with at least 100-foot-wide forest buffers. Planting these buffers falls on my high priority list. My department in Upper Dublin Township also aims to reduce grass mowing operations by converting unused turf areas to forest. Turf conversion areas are generally second priority, and I will pull from their list as corporate or volunteer groups come forward seeking projects.
Now that you have your priorities, think about site needs. Is there water available on-site, or will you need to use gator bags or a water tank? If areas are particularly dry, it may help to forestall planting until the fall. Is there any site preparation needed prior to planting? Do old stumps need to be ground, or invasive brush cleared?
The next step is to select and order trees. Be sure to consider site moisture, light levels, soil type, and space constraints (overhead wires, clearance around buildings) when selecting species. I aim to plant 100% native species for maximum ecological benefit. Many organizations have helpful tree-finder tools, such as Missouri Botanical Garden. When choosing size, consider who will be doing the planting. Small container trees work well for scout troops or students groups since they are easier for small hands. Bare-root trees work well for adult volunteer planting projects. Larger container or ball-and-burlap trees may need to be handled by staff or contractors. In the Philadelphia region, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society runs a Tree Tenders program which allows municipalities and volunteers to receive low-cost bare-root trees after completing a training course.
If using volunteers to help plant, get the word out early. Spring fills up quickly with weekend sports and activities. Many volunteers look for opportunities around Earth Day and Arbor Day, so these may be opportunities to leverage the extra hype.
A few other tips:
- Always use deer protection, even if planting in a residential area.
- Brush up on proper planting technique. There are many helpful videos on YouTube.
- Spring plantings can be extra vulnerable to drought as we head into the hot summer months. Be sure to water regularly for at least the first two years after planting. This can be another great volunteer opportunity!
Oh, and don’t forget the shovels. Happy planting!