My virtual community, The WeLL will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. Off the top of my head, I suggested that we plant trees to commemorate the event. My first thought was to plant street trees in the Bay area, but before I even finished my post I realized that it could be anywhere. People could plant urban street trees, or trees in their own yards, or even do some guerilla landscaping by planting a tree or two in a nearby park or brownfield.

Not that I'm suggesting anything illegal. Do check with your local authorities. I've never heard of anyone being arested for planting a tree, but as long as you're going to go through all the trouble, you might as well make sure you are doing it in a way that your city streets department won't undo. By way of example, here's New York City's rules on planting a street tree, even if it's in front of your own house. Most places aren't so strict, and if you call and say you want to plant a street tree they'll offer to send you a pamphlet on which trees do well in your town. If that.

Anybody can plant a tree, but planting a tree and ensuring that it grows is a bit more difficult. It's the first year that counts the most, because if the tree doesn't have a good first year, it's not going to have other good years, if it has any other years at all.

There are three main approaches to tree planting: traditional balled and burlapped (and container grown) large trees, bare root large trees, and bare root small trees. Which approach is most appropriate depends on the location and how you can care for the tree during that first critical year.

  • Balled and Burlapped trees
  • A good overview on planting balled and burlapped trees from Oregon's Cooperative Extension
    Staking and guying new trees, from Kansas State University
    A watering system for street trees. Just take a look at it, and maybe you can come up with something similar at a much lower cost with some parts from the Home Depot.
    Tree watering bags . These work pretty well, and they have the added advantage of working with the patience of the typical American gardener. Again, you might be able to come up with something similar made from items commonly found around the home.

    More important than anything, though, is the old advice: Don't plant a fifty dollar tree in a ten dollar hole. In urban and suburban areas, the soil is usually compacted severely by the heavy equipment used during construction. So before you buy bales of peat moss, before you spend any money on fertilizer, before any of that, dig the hole WIDE. Not deep, but wide. That is the single most thing you can do ensure that your tree does well its new location

  • Large bare-root trees
  • Guidelines on planting large bare-root trees from Cornell. If you can get bare root trees appropriate for your area, this is a great approach: It's less expensive and believe it or not bare root trees have a better rate of success in many situations.

    Nurseries that sell large bare root trees are still uncommon, and you will probably have to buy half a dozen or so from someplace relatively local to make it work. But get a couple of neighbors to join in on the idea, and there you are.

  • Bare root seedlings
  • If you have a large area, this is a good way to go: bare root seedlings are cheaper than dirt, and if only 50% of them make it, you still end up a nice stand of trees.

    A friend of mine's mother who is now in her nineties planted a bunch of bare root trees on her father's farm as a little girl. She lived to see the farm sold to someone who bought it because he could use the large barn for shipbuilding, and he could harvest the now mature trees for masts. Isamu Noguchi brought the trees for the UNESCO building in Paris as a small bundle of bare root trees from Japan.

    Many mail-order nurseries sell bare root seedlings, the main thing to be careful of is making sure that they don't dry out before you plant them.

    Planting bare root seedlings is simple: Open a slit in the ground. Put the seedling in the gash. Stomp it back shut. I know, now I'm saying exactly the opposite of what I said above, about digging a huge hole and all that. But if you have room to plant a bundle of little seedlings, you probably don't have a site that had a lot of soil compaction. In this type of planting, the goal is to have the soil disturbed as little as possible, and the tree roots grow into it freely.

    Resources by City

  • New York City has the Million Trees project. You can arange for a specific tree on your own property, or donate money to add up to enough to pay for and establish a significant tree. To have your donation get pooled with other WeLL members, put "The Well Tree Fund" in the comment section as you make your online donation. They take credit cards and paypal. Here's a direct link to their donation page, if you want to skip their sales pitch.

  • San Francisco's Department of Public Works doesn't make it easy, but they are thorough. Their requirements are to ensure that the trees planted survive and don't grow up to be a nuisance or a hazard.

  • Philadelphia has the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and they're one of the least expensive ways to donate an urban tree - for $25 they'll plant a small tree in a watershed area, $200 will buy a larger tree in a park. I was looking into a way we can make a donation, but they haven't been returning my calls. Since they're too busy to talk to somebody trying to give them money, we'll make do without them. Instead, we'll have a party at Audrey's house in Media and plant a few trees there, and I'll bring a bundle of bare root trees for people to plant in their own yards or on the roadside on the way home.

  • Portland has Friends of Trees which will plant a young native tree for $35, or six for $100. On the right side of their page, click on "Give Now" and put "The Well" where they ask "How did you hear about us?". Also, on the page where you fill in your credit card information, also put "The Well" for your company afilliation.

  • San Diego has Our City Forest. Look for the circle logo with "click here to donate" at the lower left. They don't have a comments field, so put "The Well" in the 2nd address line. Well donations will be pooled and another tree will get planted for each $40 raised.

  • © 2010 by Alan Turner.

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