If you want to help make a difference for the environment but don't know where to begin, start with your own yard and learn how to plant a tree. It's not only a powerful symbol for greener living, but a practical undertaking to better the earth.
Plus, research suggests trees also provide significant emotional and mental benefit—one study revealed that hospital patients with a view of trees recover faster and require less painkillers than those without, another that teenage girls with a view of a tree through their bedroom window performed better at school. Still, despite all these boons, planting an actual tree sounds daunting. The good news? It's easier than you think.
Step 1: Tree selection
Choose a tree well-suited to your climate. Native specimens are adapted to the particular rainfall and temperature of your location and so will have an easier time thriving. They will also likely have what the neighbourhood birds and other backyard wildlife need to live well.
Consider whether you want a deciduous (those that shed their leaves in the winter) or coniferous (evergreens) specimen; fruit- and nut-bearing trees are also an option. Ask your nursery about the height the tree will reach at maturation, as well as the shape and circumference, and consider what will best fit into your yard.
Step 2: Choose a site
Make sure there are no wires above your tree. If you want your tree to help cool your house, then choose a site on the east, west or south side of your home. A line of trees on the north side will best act as a windbreak during the winter. Try not to plant around underground piping where the roots might cause an expensive obstruction.
Step 3: When to plant
Spring and fall are the best times to plant deciduous trees (though some species, such as poplar and elm, will handle the winter better if planted in the spring). For spring planting, wait for the frost to clear; for fall, plant after the leaves start to fall and before the ground frosts. Conifers can also be planted in the spring, as well as from August to the end of October. Check with your local nursery for the best dates for your region.
Step 4: Planting
- Clear an area about three times the size of the diameter of the root ball. Be sure to remove any weeds, ground cover or grass in the area to avoid competition for water and nutrients.
- Dig a hole two times bigger than the root ball and as deep as the root ball. It's a good idea to rough up the hole in order to improve root penetration.
- Loosen the roots if they are compacted, but make sure to handle with care.
- Set the tree in the hole and backfill with soil and water, removing any air pockets. Make sure that once the soil is settled, the place where the roots meet the stem is flush with the ground.
You're not finished! Without a surrounding forest to naturally care for its needs, your tree needs you to help it grow.
Do not allow the roots to dry out or your tree may die. In general, water twice a week for the first six months (bring the hose right to the base and soak it for at least 30 minutes). Continue to water once a week for the first year. In the second year you can reduce the watering to twice monthly through the late spring and summer. However, be sure to check with your nursery whether your specimen and/or local climate require any special watering treatment.
Mulch is a good way to help your new tree retain moisture; spread a layer two to three inches deep around your clearing, but not within a six-inch ring around the tree's trunk. This is especially recommended if lack of rain is a concern.
A high-phosphorus fertilizer applied at planting time will stimulate root growth. Let your nursery recommend a natural product.
Only stake your tree if it cannot withstand wind or animals and other pests. Remove the stakes after they are no longer needed (two or three seasons).
These guidelines are general. Be sure to double-check with your nursery or a local urban forestry organization if your tree requires specific planting and upkeep instructions. There are many resources to help you in your tree-planting endeavour—some municipalities will even provide you with a free tree and can plant if for you if you prefer. As well, some forestry organizations may deliver trees and provide hands-on assistance with your planting.
Here are some website to help you get started:
- Tree Canada provides education, assistance and even financial support to encourage Canadians to plant and care for trees.
- Evergreen is a Canadian group committed to the greening of urban spaces, including schools, parks and private yards. Check out its native plant database to help you choose a tree for your climate.
- Canadian Forestry Association contains information on all things forestry.