Plant a Tree

We’re almost exactly on the other side of the year from Arbor Day; the next day it falls on is April 28, 2017. But I just thought I’d put in a plug for tree planting anyway. There’s just something uniquely satisfying about watching something you planted with your own hands grow and bloom! There’s a connection, and one can’t help but feel that the tree is grateful to you. As it grows you watch it, and water it, tend and protect it. You care for it. It’s almost like your child!

Though I’m no John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed (wouldn’t he be the antithesis of Paul Bunyan?), I’ve planted many a tree. Some from seeds, and some from pots bought from a local plant nursery. One of my favorite activities is perusing nurseries for plants. I’m a gardener, you see. Literally. It’s what I do – when I’m not hiking or writing. I especially enjoy visiting nurseries around bare-root time in the dead of winter.

Check them out – there’s usually a good variety of fruit trees to be had. I find them hard to resist when the pictures on the labels hanging from the unpromisingly spare and bare branches always show them as they’ll look years later when loaded with fruit. But you have to be patient. It can take a year or two for them to produce. Be sure to look for those that will blossom after the usual last frost in your area, or the cold will knock the blossom off, and no blossom means no pollination, and no pollination means no fruit. Be careful, too, not to plant fruit trees in areas of high wind, for the same reason.

Another thing to be mindful of is the number of “chill hours” required to produce fruit. Many fruit trees need the cold and won’t fruit without it. However, if they developed in warmer places there’s a good chance they could be killed by the frost. Because fruit trees often originate from areas that are outside yours they will have evolved and adapted to the climate in those areas.

Generally nurseries are cognizant of that, but I’ve seen instances when a nursery, and it’s usually the big box stores, will bring in popular plants that do very well, but in other areas. In yours they may not. So look at the label. It will tell you the “zone” (know yours) and the “hardiness” of the plant, meaning the lowest temperature they can survive in. Even that can be exaggerated some though by the vendor to attain more sales, so err on the side of caution.

Here are a couple of rough maps of hardiness zones. The first is in the United States.

And the next in Europe.

For other parts of the world Google is a good place to start.

Also, unless you want to plant multiple trees of a single variety (in which case you might look for trees that will pollinate the others) look for ones described as “self-fruitful” or “self-pollinating”. That’s what I usually get. Then you don’t have to worry about things like planting distance.

One more thing, if possible, try to find plants that are native to your region. Some plants that are non-native, also called “exotics”, can be aggressive spreaders and do serious ecological damage. That’s because there may be little or no natural checks on their population outside of their normal range, nothing around which co-evolved with them that feeds on them, and thus they are free to explode in numbers, outcompeting the natives. But not all non-native plants are rampant, so do a little research.

Still, there’s no need to wait until winter or spring to plant costly potted trees when wild trees are dropping nuts and seeds now in the fall that you can plant by the hundreds! For starters, look under oaks for acorns.

One of my favorite trees is the California native, Black Walnut, (Juglans Nigra). It just has a lovely look to it in my opinion. I once was hiking deep in a beguiling canyon, following a river, and suddenly spied a beautiful specimen. Further, it was putting out nuts! So I went ahead and gathered one, thanked the tree, then went home and planted it, first in a pot, then when it had grown large enough, in the ground. It’s now about 15 years old or so. Here’s a picture I took recently. It doesn’t do it justice. It’s the tree on the right. The tree on the left is a sycamore that I bought from a nursery about 10 years ago. And that’s ‘ol Musty in the middle for size comparison.

It now puts out its own walnuts which get a little bigger every year. 🙂 Yesterday I gathered a large bagful. I leave plenty, though, because tree squirrels come around and like to gather them too.

Though good eating, you have to be patient trying to get at the nutmeat. Black Walnut is not like English Walnut. It’s shell is tough and segmented inside. The skin, too, can dye your hand a stubborn greenish brown. The leaves and hulls contain a chemical called Juglone, which can inhibit plant growth around them, though my sycamore is doing fine. Here is a list of plants resistant to it, and another. It’s also reputed to have medicinal benefits by the alternative medicine crowd, though evidently there have been no official medical trials to date.

Well, I got off track. Sorry, didn’t mean to be so loquacious. Anyway, why not begin your own gardening career and plant a few (or many) trees? It will not only be good for the environment – think oxygen and carbon sequestration (a foil to climate change), it’s good for you too!

For more information see the Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees website.

Courtesy Wikimedia

Courtesy Wikimedia

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