By Erik Laber, Jamestown city forester
North Dakota Arbor Day is Friday, May 7. Just a few things people can do on Arbor Day:
Clean up an area of town, this will help the ecosystem, property values and visual appeal. And if it’s your yard you are cleaning, you may even find space to plant a tree!
Mulch trees (large amounts of mulch available at the city bailer, or contact your favorite tree service). Mulch helps regulate temperature and moisture when in contact with the ground around the tree, and as it breaks down, it helps fertilize the soil. This does not occur when placed on top of weed barrier.
Mulch should be placed no more than 3 to 6 inches deep and never touching the trunk of the tree. The mulch should be deeper at the outside of the ring and thinner at the center. The first year you add mulch around a tree it is a good idea to add a cup or two of fertilizer sprinkled around the tree under the mulch to kickstart the decomposition of the mulch and not steal nitrogen from the tree to accomplish this. As it will more than likely be a dry year if the weathermen are right, making sure to water at least every other week will go a long way for your trees and shrubs and plants in general. Long, deep and infrequent watering is the key to success. Short, shallow, frequent watering can actually be damaging to your trees. This keeps the roots shallow and dependent on your watering, and makes them more prone to heat and cold stress.
If you are thinking about trimming, get it done as soon as possible. Winter is the best time to prune most things, so really we are getting on the late end of things. So a word of caution: if you have an elm, or anything in the rose family, such as apples, pears, plums, apricots, roses, mountain ash, crabapples, cotoneasters and such, use caution pruning now that it is warm and fungus, bacteria and viruses can spread. If pruning out any dead, diseased material and there is space to do so, trim back 12-18 behind the infection to healthy wood, avoiding cutting into the infection at all. Use a 10% bleach solution or similar to sterilize your pruning tools in between each cut, even if using a chainsaw. Always make sure your tools are sharp so that you can make clean cuts and never rip bark. The break and twist method for pruning is strongly not recommended. When pruning never leave a stub. Never shear a branch smooth with the trunk either. Prune as close to the trunk as possible without removing the branch collar. The collar is the swollen part where the branch meets the trunk. This usually makes for a 30- to 50-degree cut from the trunk downward and out. Spruce is much closer and usually closer to vertical, but this collar is much easier to see. Whenever possible on a branch, prune to a fork. Same applies: Don’t leave stubs. These stubs just make weak points in the tree as they die and get grown around by the rest of the tree. They also provide points of entry for disease and pests as they do not heal as rapidly as they could with proper pruning.
If planting, make sure you check out the roots before sticking the tree in the ground. If potted, check to make sure the nursery that the store you bought it from did not overfill the pot. You should find the first lateral root and the root flare and remove any excess soil above this line. Break up the root ball a bit and if you are feeling brave, beat a bunch of the potting soil out of the ball to help loosen the roots and make them more visible for correcting issues and spreading out in the new hole. Cut or straighten any circling roots as these will choke the tree or cause other problems down the road. Spread out the roots so that they can reach out and get into the soil more quickly and provide good anchoring. And whenever planting always keep the root flare level with the soil surrounding the tree. Never plant the tree in a soil dish, bowl, or hollow. This makes the tree more susceptible to root rotting and other issues. And of course, water and mulch these new trees. Never amend the hole with fertilizer, rock or potting soil. The best method is to just use the native soil around it. The only thing one can do with the hole is to hill the center, especially for bare root, as this will help the roots flare out and spread.
The first thing to do after planting is water the daylights out of it to help settle the soil and ensure that the soil is moist to prevent transplant shock. Water every day for the first week. Lastly, it is good to stake your trees for the first year or two, then remove the staking so as not to hurt the tree. Always use something soft to tie the tree. Use a cotton mesh or soft fabric of some sort. Never wire or rope against the trunk. If using wire, put it through a chunk of hose. Never tighten your constraints so that there is no movement of the tree. The staking is simply to keep the tree from tipping over in the wind. A little bit of movement will help the tree grow properly.
If the intent is to plant on the boulevard, aka city right of way, a one-call check must be marked out, and a permit must be obtained from the forestry department. In most parts of town the boulevard is roughly 12 feet back from the curb, regardless of sidewalk being present or not. This width all depends on how the area of town you live in was platted and how much of the right of way was used for the street. There are certain trees not allowed on the boulevard and there are restrictions on spacing, height under power lines, proximity to utilities and setbacks from corners, driveways and alleys. This permit is free and ensures we have the right tree in the right place so it is around for years to come. If your new tree is planted on the boulevard, and all the proper steps have been completed, it qualifies for the Jamestown Planting Partners. This program was created with the goal of getting more trees planted along our streets with a partial refund on the trees as an incentive for planting. This fund is held and administered by the Jamestown Community Foundation in cooperation with the city forestry department. If you are a business or individual that would like to donate to this fund, please contact the city forester.
Lastly, celebrate! Make a tree cake, have a green blizzard, do some crafts, whatever you like! Arbor Day is a holiday, it’s a party for the trees. Shake a leaf and get out there!
Check out arborday.org for more information and ideas.