Guest blog post by Richard Bewley, PSO Region Forestry Supervisor.
‘Tis spring, when a youngster’s heart turns to…. tree planting!
Seeing someone else’s tree blooming just naturally creates demand. Advertising definitely works for trees as well as for any other commodity. At this time of year, nurseries see a spike in sales of just about everything that is blooming that particular week.
Let’s talk about those trees in bloom. The first tree to bloom seasonally in the woods of Oklahoma once was the Redbud, our state tree. I’d guess that few know the identity of the tree with white flowers that bloom at the same time as our native Redbud. Dogwood? A Dogwood has a large showy blossom and actually blooms a few weeks after the Redbud, closer to Easter.
The white flowers that show up around the same time as those of the Redbud actually belong to the Mexican Plum. Its flowers are much smaller than those of the Dogwood, but they bloom in big clumps along the branch.
Landscapers like to mimic this natural show by planting Redbuds with Whitebuds, a genetic variation of the Redbud. I’ve never had much luck with Whitebuds, so I’m going to plant more Mexican Plum.
So why isn’t the Redbud still the first bloomer of spring? Oklahoma forests are facing an invasion of mutants. The first blooms in the woods these days are the offspring of flowering pears. All those flashy fruitless pears that we loved to plant over the last few decades have found a way to produce fertile fruits. (Oh, the endless resourcefulness of nature.)
Watch your local pear over the next months, and see if it grows some small, hard, stunted fruits. Don’t think you’re going to make tasty jelly out of them. Yet, some sort of winged wildlife finds them attractive. The pears have fled the captivity of our urban parking lots and road medians, and now are populating the woods and wild lands of Oklahoma. They boom early, and often they bloom twice in years of severe drought. You can identify them in the woods by the characteristic ‘teardrop’ shape, as opposed to the ‘vase’ shape of the native Mexican Plum. Watch for them in a woodlot near you.
Keep your eyes on the woods over the next several weeks to follow the cascade of blooms. A tree flower is often a subtle thing, but nonetheless beautiful. Maples have already flowered, and are beginning to build the little helicopter seeds. Oaks are flowering now, with long catkins and tiny leaflets. Elms are building seed before they put on leaves. Sweetgum, Pine, Cottonwood, Ash, Willow, and Hickory all will put on a show. Locusts are blooming this week. Post Oaks and Blackjacks may hold on to last year’s leaves until the new leaf breaks the bud and kicks the old leaf off the stem. Pecan is usually the last tree to flower and leaf out sometime in May.
We all know the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is in the fall of any year. The third best time is when your shovel is sharp and you have the time and inclination to keep it watered. Planting a tree right now is not too late, although the longer you wait, the more stressful it is for the tree.
Smaller trees grown in containers experience less transplant stress than their bigger, ‘balled-in-burlap’ brothers. Beware of roots growing in a circle around the root mass when you pull the tree out of its container. Those roots will put on a growth ring every year, as will the trunk. After several years the stem meets the ‘girdling’ root, and the tree has a ‘mortality experience’.
Then, you’ll wonder why the tree ‘suddenly’ died, but its fate was sealed the day you planted it without spreading or cutting those circling roots.
- Plant the tree too high in the hole, then you’ll never plant too deep.
- Dig the hole five times wider than you think you need to… you’ll wear yourself out when you get about four times wider, and that will be about right.
- The answer to almost any problem your tree is experiencing is: ADD MORE MULCH. Not too deep, like a mulch volcano, but WIDER is better.
That’s what’s growing on out there. Stop and enjoy the flowers, plant a tree for posterity, and beware of the invading mutant pears!