Roots and Shoots: 50 Ways to Thank a Tree

By Pamela Doan

Trees are amazing. Just think about some of the things that trees can do. Last spring, did you notice that there were tons of maple seedlings everywhere and this spring there aren’t? That’s because maples drop mass quantities of seeds every two to three years to outsmart anything that feeds on their seedlings. The large number means that more trees survive. Smart. I read that an acre of maple trees can put as much as 20,000 gallons of water into the air every day through transpiration, the process that brings water from the roots up the tree’s vascular system and then releases the water through the leaves into the air. I don’t have any useful talents that can compare with that.

seedling 1I got carried away when I saw the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District’s seedling sale list. Ten seedlings for $15 seemed like a dream come true. Then, last Thursday, I got worried that I couldn’t fit them all in the car. All 50 of them. I called and was reassured that the order was in a grocery bag. Then I started worrying about how small and vulnerable the seedlings must be to fit in a grocery bag. Looking at the deer-bitten and barberry-dominated landscape around my house, I decided it wasn’t an ideal nursery for baby trees.

Last Friday, I indeed picked up my 50 seedlings in a brown paper bag, which of course fit in the back seat. On Sunday, they started going in the ground. It took more time figuring out where to plant 50 trees than the actual planting so far, but an afternoon of work still only got 17 in, which leaves 33 to go. That’s a lot of holes in the yard, I realize now.

I don’t have a lot of experience planting trees, so I read the instructions provided with the seedlings, and then for good measure I referred to the Arbor Day Foundation website. Basically, for bare-root seedlings that don’t have a root ball and aren’t wrapped in burlap, dig a hole deep enough to fit the entire length of the roots and give it some room. I dug holes twice as wide and 1½ times the depth because I have crappy soil and needed to work in peat and compost. By loosening the soil in a wide berth around the tree’s roots, it will have some room to move around and get established.

I don’t plan to stake the seedlings. Movement from wind helps the roots grow stronger. Mulching is the next step, and here’s something to remember — no volcano mulch! This is not mulch made from volcanic ash but rather refers to the shape of the mulch around the tree. If the tree looks like it’s rising from a mountain of wood chips or sitting in the middle of a volcano mouth, that’s bad. If I see this in your yard, I might stop by and free the tree from its mulch. Mulching too thickly and deeply around a tree or right up to its trunk prevents the roots from getting water and air, and the roots grow into the mulch instead of into the ground. You know who loves volcano mulch, though? Voles do. They tunnel right up to your tree and next thing you know, it’s laying in the yard.

The Arbor Day Foundation has a poster on its website that you can download listing 10 reasons to plant a tree, but really, when you think about how amazing trees are, it doesn’t take a lot to be convinced. Kids learn about trees in science class early on, and it’s easy to forget about how cool they are and take them for granted.

But get this — photosynthesis? It’s the magical way that trees convert the pollution our lifestyles add to the atmosphere, otherwise known as carbon dioxide or CO2, into food for growth. FOOD. They take my Subaru’s emissions and turn it into sugar and cellulose and other carbohydrates that the tree uses to become beautiful and vital, drawing people from the city to come to our area in the fall just to get a glimpse, giving us their tourist dollars, picking our apples, and making Metro-North happy. Here’s a huge thank-you to the trees for not letting the planet burst into flames from all the heat and for keeping our area economically healthy. Without the trees, it wouldn’t be the same planet, and it might not actually be here at all.

Arbor Day is like a mass birthday celebration for all the trees, so do something nice for a tree today.

Garden questions? Send them here: askrootsandshoots@philipstown.info.

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