Many organizations choose to give away or sell very young trees to help encourage tree planting. Often, you leave home not knowing that you’ll come back with a new tree and find yourself at a loss as to how to care for this plant. Here is some guidance on how and where to put this tiny bundle of potential so it has the best chance of becoming a mature tree one day! There is an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now.” Well, we are very late for the best time, but right on time for the second so let’s get to work!
The first thing is to make sure you keep your tree safe on the way home. Carry the seedling with you and avoid leaving it in a hot car or buried with all of the other treasures you collect on your outing. Once you get home, the clock is ticking to get this tree planted so it can become acclimated to its new surroundings. Choosing a spot is probably the most important decision you’ll make. Spend a few minutes thinking about where your seedling should go based on its species. While sun exposure and water usually get the most attention, don’t forget to think about how big this tree will get in the coming years. Try to picture the mature tree in your mind when choosing a spot. I can’t tell you how often I see sycamores planted under power lines or birch trees planted a foot or two from the foundation of a house. A few seconds of contemplation now will save a lot of time and money in the future as poorly planted trees require more pruning and are more likely to need removal.
You’ll also want to consider how much water you tree will need. Generally speaking, tree species that need a lot of water tend to do better in low lying areas of the yard while those that want dryer soil do better on hillsides and rises. Just as important as water is light. Many trees, especially those that will be very large, do well with shade when they are young but need full sunlight as they grow taller. If you have an old tree that is starting to decline, you can consider planting under the mature tree so that when it finally goes, you will have new one ready to fill that space.
Protecting your young tree is another important undertaking. Do you have deer, rabbits, moles or voles? These can all be fatal to young trees and, depending on where you live, you may need to protect your seedling from one or more of these critters.
Once the tree is established (after about a year) you can fertilize to help speed growth and compensate for nutrients missing in your specific soil. Keeping a good mulch ring around the tree will serve as a reminder of the location so that your new plant doesn’t get stepped on or mown down. Mulch also helps to keep soil moisture constant and that’s a big help for all trees.
If you just can’t find the right spot, you can also plant it in a container until a good home can be found. There is something really special about finding a forever home for a new tree and creating memories that last a lifetime. Remember when planting to just relax and have fun. Trees grow in the woods by themselves all the time and you’re just trying to help the process happen in a desirable spot so don’t worry too much.