Questions On: Tree Planting

Ron Smith,  Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service


Q: I enjoy reading your weekly column. It has been a great help. I want to order some root stock from the Cass County Soil Conservation District, but need some advice. I am trying to decide what to order for a hedge that also will act as a snow fence for the front half of my yard. We live on an acre lot. The hedge will run just about the length of the north edge of our property and about 10 feet from a row of ash trees. I would guess it to be about 150 to 175 feet long. There are a couple of dogwoods in the middle of the row. They have red twigs on the early growth with little, white flowers. I would like to have a variety of bushes rather than just one kind. I have narrowed the choices down to Schubert chokecherry, villosa lilac, Hansen hedge rose and smooth sumac. Is there any reason not to plant any of these next to each other? I was planning to start with the lilacs and chokecherries where I need the snow fence protection. On the other side of the dogwoods, I would plant roses and finish with sumac. I realize that the sumac will sucker, but I really like the look of the plant. The sumac would be shaded by the ash trees on the east side of the property during early morning hours. If for some reason you think I should use something different, the other options that are available are golden currant, grey dogwood and common lilac. I also would like to order Ponderosa pines to plant in the northwestern corner of the yard. The pines would be planted in front of the bushes. All the plants come in lots of five. I was thinking of planting the pines and then thinning them down to three trees a couple of years later. What type of arrangement do you think I should plant these in? (Frontier, N.D.)

A: Thanks for the nice comments! Your selections make sense to me, if you are happy with them. As for the Ponderosa pines, I would suggest a staggered pattern because they do not maintain their pyramidal shape as they age. They will lose their lower branches and the trees eventually will get a broad, spreading head, which is not like the characteristic pyramidal heads that you seen on most pines. Clusters of three or five, spaced about 15 to 20 feet apart, will look too far apart at the start, but will close as they mature, without being overcrowded.


Q: I am a 1980 NDSU graduate and now live 100 miles southeast in Alexandria, Minn. I have three acres with beautiful native maples, hackberry, ash and elm trees. We have a hackberry that is more than 200 years old and many of the maples are more than 100 years old. About an acre in the back of the house is a bare field. It used to be alfalfa, but the weeds have taken over. What can I plant that will grow in a hurry for privacy and will blend in with the rest of our property? I have planted a triumph elm and 20 bare-root chokecherries, but that is about it. I do have 35 Norway spruce planted around the bare field. (Alexandria, Minn.)

A: Fast growers are silver maples (I'd suggest named cultivars), poplars and willows. In the evergreen category, I would opt for Ponderosa and limber pines. For shrubs, staghorn sumac is one of my favorites because it spreads quickly through rhizomes and has an attractive fall color. I hope this is what you are looking for; if not, get back to me.


Q: I'm wondering what types of trees I should be planting. I have land in northern Bottineau County that is very sandy. The area where I've tried to get trees started has some low spots. These areas don't seem to grow vegetation as well as the higher and drier areas. Iíve had fairly good luck with caragana plants. The Soil Conservation District did the planting. It mixed some Colorado blue spruce with other spruce trees in one row. These trees are four or more years old, but not very tall. I have maintained the space between the rows fairly weed-free. The trees haven't done as well as I had hoped. I have watched closely for worms and other insects. I planted a row of poplar trees in the same vicinity. They didn't do well at all. I then planted poplars, but they haven't fared any better. As a last resort, I planted Russian olives. Do you have any recommendations or other types of trees I might try? I'd like a good shelter strip in as short of time as possible. (e-mail reference)

A: I'm surprised that the Soil Conservation District has not offered a wider selection for your location. Those folks are very regionally knowledgeable about plant selections. You might inquire about boxelders, silver maples, catalpa and native bur oak. The redstem, white and golden willows also are very adaptive trees to the situation you describe.


Q: I received a call from a homeowner asking if shrubs and trees planted during this time of the year should be watered in. The trees have dropped their leaves. I thought it would be a good question for your column because Iím sure other people are wondering the same thing. (e-mail reference)

A: If there is no rain in the forecast before winter temperatures close in, it is important that there be some moisture in the soil surrounding the root mass. Lethal temperatures can be reached in the root zone if the soil is too dry. This would be especially true of recently planted trees and shrubs. Thanks for the good question.


Q: I have several volunteer trees on my land (cottonwood, ash, elm and hackberry). I would like to transplant them to another area and keep them growing. Can you tell me how and when to do this? (e-mail reference)

A: Autumn, after the trees drop their leaves, is the best time. Dig out as much of the root as possible and then immediately plant the trees at the same depth. Water in well and let the trees take off next year.


Q: Three or four years ago, I moved a small sapling growing in our yard to a bed along the side of my house. It is a great tree, but Iíd like to move it to a spot that would give us some much-needed shade. Itís about 16 feet tall. How wide and deep should I plan for the size of the rootball? (e-mail reference)

A: Get a professional tree mover to do the work for you. The mover will make it a piece of cake and be done in a matter of minutes. The mover probably will use a TS-44 to move a tree that size, which will provide for a good-sized rootball. Check the moverís credentials and ask for references.


Q. How late can trees and shrubs be planted?

A. Fall is an excellent time to get most of this planting done, as the growth activity is confined to below ground in the root system, giving most plants a good head start during the subsequent spring.

The planting can be done anytime in late August, September or October, as long as the ground has not yet frozen. Keep in mind that as the soil/water temperature gets below 40 F water moves with greater difficulty into the roots, thus slowing down the whole growth cycle.

Woody plants are sold as bare-root (BR), balled and burlaped (B&B), or container grown (CG). BR plants offer the advantages of being less expensive and easier to handle and having no soil interface problem that sometimes occurs with the other two. B&B plants have the nursery soil within a burlap ball, and generally about two-thirds to three-quarters of the original root system. Beware of "wild-dug" or shelterbelt-dug trees, as they would have no more than 5 to 10 percent of the root system remaining. CG plants have literally all of the root system present when planted (after the container is removed, of course).

Some people like to use live spruce or pine trees for the Christmas season. With a little advanced planning, this is possible. Simply mulch the area thickly with straw where the plant is intended to go after the holidays, and it will stay unfrozen until planting after the season.

With any of these plantings, be sure to water in completely.


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