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How Does Your Garden Grow? Trees for future generations

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

Fall is the time when trees take center stage as annuals and perennials wind down for the season. Soon the beautiful display of autumn color will begin in home landscapes. However, perhaps due to this season of serious drought and ash tree loss, many of us may need to plant new trees.

Selecting a tree for the home landscape is exciting and fun, but it also is very important to choose the right tree. As the new addition will be expensive, careful research into the needs of different types of trees is key to making a good selection. A wise choice will ensure that the new tree will be around to be enjoyed by future generations.

There are many things to consider with a new planting. It is necessary to locate the proper site, to check for a cold hardiness of zone 5 or colder, to discover possible future disease or insect problems, to determine if the tree’s ultimate size is appropriate for your yard and to be aware of maintenance issues.

The University of Illinois website – http://urbanext.illinois.edu/treeselector/ – is a great resource when making decisions about a tree purchase. Here are a few tree suggestions to consider, but check the website as it offers many options.

The first category of trees to consider are the deciduous trees. The white oak is the state tree for a good reason. It is a large, native tree with a moderate growth pattern offering an attractive red-maroon foliage display in the fall. This is one of the few trees that should be planted in the spring rather than the fall. The hackberry and the honey locust are two other good choices as they are native, easy to grow and offer good fall color.

If you want to plant conifers, recommended varieties include scotch and white pine and northern white cedar. The last two mentioned are both native to Illinois.

Fruit trees that are successful here include plum, pear and apple.

If you are searching for a tree with good spring flowering potential and also fall color, the crabapple is a good choice. Be sure to look for disease resistant varieties. The serviceberry tree is a triple winner with more than one season of interest. It is native to Illinois and offers impressive spring flowering, berries for the birds and finishes with good fall color.

Most trees should be planted in the fall. Instructions for the care of newly planted trees is slightly different this year as we adjust to the drought situation. They should receive 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Watering should be slow and deep at the dripline of the tree. Careful watering and monitoring of the new tree should continue for the first two to three years.

Due to the drought, it is recommended that trees be fertilized as they enter dormancy (September) with a 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer to support root systems that have been compromised due to lack of moisture.

During the growing season, trees should be mulched with 2 to 4 inches of mulch and with 4 to 6 inches of winter protective mulch. Remember when mulching around a tree that the mulch should be shaped like a doughnut, not a volcano!

Wrapping with sisal paper or burlap is recommended for winter protection against wildlife damage. Remove the wrap in the spring.

Trees are of great value in home landscapes. They reduce air and noise pollution while providing shade and lowering heating and cooling costs. All forms of wildlife appreciate the food and shelter that trees provide. With careful planning and research, the trees you plant now will still be alive and thriving for future generations to enjoy. Happy planting!

• The Master Gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office in the Farm Bureau Center for Agriculture, 1350 W. Prairie Drive, Sycamore. Walk-ins are welcome. For information, call 815-758-8194 or email DeKalb_mg@extension.uiuc.edu.

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