Restoring the Balance
Today, we’re asking you to put yourself in a tree’s shoes–or roots. Planting day is so exciting for volunteers. We get to hang out with our neighbors, get our hands dirty, and feel good about getting trees in the ground. But planting day is the most stressful day of a tree’s life.
When we plant a tree, we have to cut some of its roots. Container-grown trees need to have their roots cut to prevent them from circling in on themselves, even after they’re put in the ground. Ball and burlap trees are grown in the ground, but they also get their roots cut when they are put into that ball to be moved to their final location.
Trees are all about balance. Balance between canopy, where the tree can feed on sunlight and perform photosynthesis, and roots, which pull nutrients from the soil and provide the tree its needed strength and stability. For a newly planted tree, this time of year is all about restoring that balance and getting the roots and the shoots established.
Trees are like icebergs—there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface than we realize. Being able to understand what’s going on underground for our trees helps us better care for them, especially when it comes to watering.
We’ve mentioned watering plenty, but it’s so important that we can’t really talk about it too much. We have had an incredibly wet spring, which is great for the trees! As stewards, we’ve been able to keep our foot off the gas—we haven’t really had to worry about getting out our hose or watering bucket all that much.
But at some point the rain becomes intermittent and shallow enough that it doesn’t reach the tree roots. Watering trees is very different from watering grass, which benefits from frequent and shallow watering. One of the most common watering mistakes is watering your tree like you would your grass, for just a few minutes every day. For trees, we want deep and infrequent. In the summer, a thorough watering once a week is a perfect schedule (see details here).
When you water your tree, imagine what’s going on underground. We want to water the tips of the roots as they spread out. Another common watering mistake is when folks just point their hose at the base of the trunk and water there. You want to simulate a rain storm for your tree, watering all sides, and several feet away from the trunk so that you get the tips of the roots.
Overwatering is rare, but you still want to avoid it. Again, it helps to picture what’s going on beneath the surface. Perfect soil is about 50% air and water pockets. Too much water can flatten those pockets and there’s no air. You’re essentially drowning your roots. Beyond that, too wet soil threatens the stability of the tree. When a tree fails because it’s thrown by the wind, it’s usually because the soil is too wet.
This time of year, we are spectacularly rewarded for our care for our trees. Bud break, flowering, leafing out—it’s a rejuvenating thing to see each spring.
If you’re thinking about getting a new tree for your yard next year, now is a good time to consider which species you might want! What trees are catching your eye? What looks like it might be right at home in your yard. Take note now, and next year, we can get you what you’re looking for!