Adams County Master Gardener
Trees are the biggest, and most prominent plant on your property. Native trees offer the most value and support to wildlife, so why not consider a native when selecting a new tree? For instance, did you know that the vast majority of host plants for butterflies are trees,
not perennials? But not just any tree will do. It has to be a specific native. Large, native trees contribute a significant number of services to our local wildlife because they are top insect supporters, a substantial food source, (acorns, nuts, seeds, and fruits) and they create large areas for shelter. In addition, their roots provide erosion control and form large
micorrhizal fungi networks below ground that help sustain the network of life in the soil. In other words, trees are crucial to our ecology!
Before selecting a tree, make sure you know the answer to these questions: Is my soil acidic or neutral? Is the area usually dry, or often damp? Will this tree sit alone in full sun, or will it be partially shaded? Consider the space available and the mature size of the tree, and never plant a tree under power lines! Any reputable nursery should be
able to direct you to a good choice knowing these criteria.
Before buying, Google the botanical name and find out if it is native to our area. If you are choosing between two similar plants and one is native, why not pick the native? For example, there are approximately 128 species of maples, but only about 13 of those are native to North America. The non-natives may be pretty, but will not necessarily
attract wildlife. On our property, we have two Crabapples. They both bloom in spring, and produce little apples. The birds love the apples from the native, but ignore the apples from the other.
If you are looking to purchase a native tree, here are a few you may wish to consider:
1. White Oak (Quercus alba) - a very valuable tree to plant if you have several acres of property. This tree will mature to a huge size. The oak supports more species of wildlife than any other plant, and the acorns of the white oak are smaller and more tasty to wildlife than other types of oak.
2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum) - a large shade tree suitable for an average sized yard. It is best known for its bright red foliage in the fall.
3. Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) - commonly called Black Gum or Sour Gum, but a completely different tree from the Sweet Gum that drops those annoying spiky balls! Black gum is considered a medium/large sized tree as is the Red Maple. It is known for its purple/scarlet foliage in the fall and its small, bitter tasting fruits which are loved by
many species of songbirds.
4. American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) - the Hornbeam, commonly called Ironwood in our area, is considered a small/medium tree rarely topping 40 feet. It enjoys a shaded environment and moist soil. Fall foliage color is yellow.
5. Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) - this is a tall, attractive, fast growing tree that has very few pest problems. It produces tulip shaped flowers in the spring that are loved by our Ruby-throat Hummingbirds, and its seeds that appear in summer and persist into winter, are enjoyed by many birds and small mammals. Its fall foliage is yellow.
6. Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) - This is a small tree (under 30 feet) with beautiful, tiny purple flowers in the early spring. It is an understory tree which tells you it doesn't want to be out in the hot sun.
7. American Crabapple (Malus coronaria)- The crabapple tree is one of the most beautiful spring bloomers. It produces fruit loved by the birds that will feed them into winter. It will thrive in the sun, and grow 12 to 20 feet high depending on the cultivar. Some are highly susceptible to a number of apple diseases. Try 'Adirondack'. It has
excellent resistance to disease.
If you plant these trees properly, they will probably out-live you, so choose carefully and plant correctly. Just remember these simple rules for planting:
1. Dig the hole much wider than the root ball, but not deeper. Set the rootball on firm soil. The number one cause of all transplanted tree deaths is being planted too deep. You should be able to see the root flare of any healthy tree.
2. Do not amend the soil of the newly planted tree. Set the tree in the hole, then replace the same soil back into the hole. If you make that hole too desirable, the roots of the new tree will tend to stay in that place, and not venture outward.
3. Staking is probably unnecessary. Bending with the wind is what strengthens the new tree. If you feel staking is necessary, don't leave it on for more than a year.
4. Do not stack mulch up the trunk of your tree! Many so-called "landscapers" do this thinking it looks nice. In reality, it softens the bark, and subjects the tree to insect damage and disease. The mulch should always be pulled back from the trunk so the root flare is visible.
Read other articles about tree care
Read other articles by Barbara Mrgich