Planting a tree can be relatively simple, inexpensive activity that will provide numerous benefits in return. Trees add value to property and can play a disproportionate role in a home's curbside appeal. Mature trees, if thoughtfully selected and placed, can notably affect the heating and cooling costs for a home. Shade trees help to provide a more welcoming outdoor environment for children and pets. In this writeup, I'm going to discuss my recent experience with planting a tree.

Step One: Determine the type and location for the tree

This winter has been especially cold here in the South (Southern United States), and I had begun to believe that another year would go by without my being able to plant a tree. For those of you who, through boredom or insomnia, have ever made it to the bottom of my home node know that planting a tree has always been one of the things I wished to accomplish before dying. Our home is in a relatively new neighborhood, almost completely bereft of trees, and our southern facing home really heats up during the summer. In the winter, prevailing weather patterns blow cutting, damp winds from the southwest. With this in mind, I had already given some thought to what type of tree I would prefer and where I would place it.

Most of the best shade trees are deciduous, and while great for cooling the house in the summer, tend to do little to save energy costs during the winter after their leaves fall off for the year. Many coniferous trees, such as juniper s, provide dense foliage year-round and can be planted closer to a home, but take too long to grow  (or sometimes never reach) a sufficient height to provide cooling during the summer. Because we generally have short winters and long, sweltering summers in my region, I decided to select a shade tree.

Generally, the trees that are available for purchase in your area are trees fitted to your zone or region. In my case, since I would be planting on the southern portion of my property in front of the house, I needed a tree that would thrive under maximum sunlight with sometimes light-to-moderate water availability and good drainage. Additionally, since it would be in the front yard, I wanted something that could grow relatively quickly (in the world of trees, at least) and be pleasing to look at once mature. Finally, because autumn is my favorite time of year, I decided that foliage color should be bright and vivid during that time of year. With all of this in mind, I selected a Red Maple.

As an aside, it is common in our area for new developments to contain Bradford Pears. These trees also grow quickly, provide moderate shade, and are low maintenance. But I despise these trees, because they are extremely fragile and commonly snap in the wind. During the late spring when they blossom, it creates a smell similar to rotting flesh. And while I love zombie movies, I don't want my front yard smelling like one.

Step Two: Purchase the tree and transport it home

Young trees are available for purchase in the garden centers of many national chains. Wal-Mart, Kmart, Lowe's, Home Depot, and several others will often have popular trees available. For a wider variety or different sizes (from seedlings to larger), local nurseries and greenhouses are also an option. It is probably worth the effort to call around if nurseries are available in your area to check price differences. In my case, the Red Maple is one of the most popular shade trees in the eastern portion of the United States. Because I was already at Lowe's to pick up some materials for my square foot garden project, I purchased my tree there. The version they were selling was October Glory, cultivated for pronounced foliage coloration. The tree cost $24.98.

Getting a young tree home can be a challenge for those of us who do not drive trucks or large SUVs. When I purchased my tree I was driving a Hyundai Elantra (a small four-door sedan), and resorted to sliding the passenger seat as far back as possible with the backrest reclined all the way down. After putting plastic in the floorboard, I managed to wrapped in the tree top first with the trunk resting at about a 30° angle. This was less of a problem than anticipated because the soil in the pot had sufficiently settled that it did not spill out much and helped to reinforce the tree. So it is possible to put a 6 foot young tree into a small car if necessary.

Step Three: Plant and water the tree

The tree I selected included a tag with planting and care instructions. An important piece of information found on this tag is the height/width measurement. Prior to digging your hole for the tree, be sure to reference just how big it should mature to and then place it in the location where it will not eventually run into power lines or roofs. Additionally, remember that the root structure of a tree will eventually take up a lot of space underground, and for this reason it is important to place the tree where water lines, sidewalks, and drainage culverts are not going to be affected. In my case, a Red Maple can live for over 140 years, so it was important to think long-term. Many common shade trees can live much longer and grow much larger, so this is a very important consideration!

The general rule of thumb is to dig a hole approximately twice the size of the root ball, and then back fill around it. Because my yard (again, due to it's being a new development) is covered in sod, I was careful to first use the blade of my shovel to cut straight down in a circle around the intended hole. Next, I slid the blade of the shovel about 2 inches under this cut horizontally around the circle. Essentially, this is to peel off the top layer of sod in the most undisturbed manner possible. Once separated, I took this circular cap and set it aside, and then dug a hole about 1 1/2 to 2 feet deep and about 2 feet wide. Removing the tree from its plastic pot, I centered it in the hole and used to the soil previously removed to fill back in around the root ball. I tamped this down with my foot and shovel, and then used to the blade of the shovel to cut the sod cap in half. I placed each half back over the hole, and then tamped this down as well. When finished, it was difficult to distinguish any marking that would indicate I had just planted the tree. Finally, I thoroughly soaked the hole with water.

The entire operation took 30 minutes or less, and cost less than $25. I will probably still need to put a couple of stakes down and tie line from the stake to the trunk to straighten a little curve that is currently in the tree, but aside from that I would just make sure this stays watered in the first year. Throughout the process, my young daughter played around me, and now hopefully I will get to see both grow together throughout their life.

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