Trees surround us, yet are extraordinary and inspire awe.
A 5,062-year-old pine holds the record as the world’s oldest tree. A Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), it grows in California’s White Mountains, according to the Tree-Ring Research Group.
One last note, while trembling aspens (Populus tremuloides) aren’t scientifically designated as trees, they are amazing living organisms that grow in tree-like form.
One of these, an 80,000-year-old aspen grows over 106 acres in Utah. It weights an estimated 13 million pounds, states the U.S. Forest Service.[v]
Called the “Trembling Giant” or Pando (which translates as “I spread”), it is considered a living organism since it is a “clonal colony.” It consists of 40,000 genetically identical male trees connected by a single massive root system.
Located southwest of Utah’s Fish Lake, Pando may die within 20 years if drastic steps are not taken, states a U&S News and World Report article dated Nov. 11, 2017.[vi] Among the problems facing Pando, are mule deer who eat new growth before the trees can regenerate themselves.
The Right Tree for the Right Place
Choosing a tree for your yard doesn’t mean it will grow for thousands of years, but it may last for 200. One way to guarantee you trees lives a longer life is to plant the right tree in the right place and you give it some care.
Choosing the Right Native Matters
Native trees offer unique advantages over non-native or “exotic” trees. Natives support a far larger range of wildlife: insects, birds and mammals. They have co-evolved with insects and wildlife over centuries in a specific location and often they depend on each other for existence. Native trees are defined as those present at the time Europeans arrived in North America.
If you need convincing just review the research of Doug W. Tallamy, University of Delaware professor of insect ecology. He examined the benefits of tree and plants on butterfly and moth (Lepidoptera) species. He used Lepidoptera as indicators of plants that would support biodiversity in general.
Native oak trees (Quercus) support 534 species of U.S. butterflies and moths. Australian Paperbark tea trees (Melaleuca quinquenervia) support eight species in the U.S. and grow invasively in Florida. In their native Australia, the trees benefit many Lepidoptera.
To see more plants that benefit Lepidoptera and other insects go to https://enst.umd.edu/sites/enst.umd.edu/files/_docs/Table%201%20from%20Doug%20Tallamy%20Sheet1.pdf
Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens by Tallamy offers numerous insights into the essential role that native plants, insects and wildlife play in the world and our survival.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
Trees don’t move. Their progeny moves slowly. So, when you plant a tree grown three states or a continent away, it doesn’t make sense ecologically.
“Pollen rarely travels more than ½ mile. Given that a tree can consider itself successful if only one of its offspring makes it to maturity, and supposing that trees live on average about 200 years, a couple conclusions can be reached:
“It takes about 200 years for tree genetics (assuming no further dispersal of seed by wind, water or animals) to move about ½ mile, and hence tree genetics are relatively local,” states the University of Maryland (UMD) Agricultural and Natural Resources Department of Environmental Science and Technology website.
“If you are going to plant a native tree [in Maryland], why do it with material originally taken from Tennessee or Ohio? The largest white oaks anywhere [are sic] grown on the Delmarva Peninsula. Why would any Marylander look outside their state for a white oak tree? It beats us.
“Really, the best thing a homeowner can do to support the local food web is to nurture a native volunteer of local origin,” the site concludes. [vii]
So, go in your back yard and start digging!
Strength in Diversity
By planting different types of trees, you provide greater protection for all your trees. If you grow a monoculture–all one species—the trees will be more vulnerable to disease, insects, fungi and other problems. If a tree in an identical row of trees dies, the new one will not match the originals.
If you plant different types of trees, you reduce these risks.
The original owners of my house planted more than six dozen beautiful blue spruce trees in our yard. They lined the driveway and our property. Dramatic looking, they also served as a great windbreak. After enjoying them for many years, they all had to be cut down almost simultaneously due to insect damage and age. The dramatic change in my landscape led to my interest in trees!
When to Plant
Many trees prefer to be planted in the fall though some prefer the spring.
“There are a few types of trees that seem to establish better if planted in the spring rather than the fall including oaks, pines, dogwoods, American holly, willows, and black gum,” notes the UMD Extension website. “Balled-and-burlap (B&B) and container grown trees can be planted any time the soil isn’t frozen,” further notes the site.
Planting leafed out trees during the summer can strain trees. Giving trees enough water during the summer can be difficult as well.
For more tree planting tips from the UMD Extension, go to http://extension.umd.edu/sites/extension.umd.edu/files/_images/programs/hgic/Publications/HG24_Planting_tips_for_trees.pdf
How to Find Native Trees
Think local! The best source: native seeds or seedings from your backyard. Is there a red maple sprouting up? Replant it where you want it to grow. Have an acorn or two sitting around? Plant it. (Oak seedlings have deep tap roots so it is easier to plant an acorn than dig up a small plant.) They’re free and as local as you can get.
If you want a specific tree and don’t have it in your yard, visit a reputable local nursery.
Why local? The Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center’s website explains it best: “Ideally the best situation would be to introduce… native plants that are of the same local genotype [as those in your yard] so they would have the best chance to adapt and survive, as well as to service the indigenous insect and wildlife population…. this is quite a challenge to source and accomplish. So, planting any form of native plants has many benefits and should be encouraged.
“…once you have your list of potential nurseries, check them out on the suppliers section of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website….
“An ecotype is a certain population of plants within a species that, due to different genetics, has a different form (height, leaf size, etc.), flowering time, or hardiness that is adapted to certain environmental conditions… Taking plant species that are of one ecotype and moving them to an area with environmental conditions different than the ones that the plant is adapted to, such as different freezing stresses or different moisture levels, can result in poor growth or death.”[viii]
If you are not sure what type of area your live in (costal or piedmont for example) check with your state university extension service such as the UMD Extension. To see your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, view the USDA map at http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.
To find nurseries that sell native trees, explore online, visit the Lady Bird Johnson website or Mt. Cuba’s website at https://mtcubacenter.org/action/nursery/.
In Baltimore, the Herring Run Nursery typically stocks more than 200 native plants, shrubs and trees. Their website is https://www.bluewaterbaltimore.org/herring-run-nursery/plant-availability// The nursery is part of the non-profit Blue Water Baltimore.
In Carroll County, Wakefield Valley Nursery, http://www.wakefieldvalleynursery.com/, offers native trees. Many other excellent nurseries carry trees, just insist on a native tree!
Where to Plant a Tree (or When to Switch Species)
No matter how much you want to grow a tree whether a hickory, redbud or something else, it needs the right site. Hence the mantra: the right plant in the right place.
When you choose a site for a new tree, consider how much sun it will receive, what type of soil is there and how much water it will receive. One tree may want full sun, others part shade. Loamy soil may be important for some while others happily grow in dry, rocky soil. Some trees like sweetbay magnolia, like damp soil.
PH levels in soil can be an issue for many plants. Soil in Maryland’s Carroll County tends to be acidic since acidic-leafed oak forests used to cover the area. Hollies, evergreens, oaks and other trees revel in this low pH soil.
If your site doesn’t match the tree you want to plant, choose a different tree or new site so your tree starts life off right.
Part II, a look at Maryland’s native trees, to follow soon.
[i] Nature: Mapping Tree Density on a Global Scale: www.nature.com/articles/nature14967.epdf?referrer_access_token=-ITTs1wLjqDGJ_kKHVOe09RgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PkYJmQ6VQcpxIB4Tt0SaQywsN0n2B7UMpxadfI0w_ofFp1UWuL_UZQNQavhgcMP5KwfdMw2cuixif8i8L0MwlSZ45gJCus3AYd3tUOLEAqhN6YTcQzH1p0XxflwFmw1WtsLp29BmJxm1DoCinFk6vWSpPw-z3WdMc0aI8LfwWIHw%3D%3D&tracking_referrer=www.bbc.com