Garden Clippings: Planting Trees for the Future

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By Mike Lang

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Plant a tree for future generations.
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How many times have you stood in amazement while gazing at the outline of a majestic tree? I’m not talking about the giant sequoias or other renowned trees of the Americas, but rather those that we pass by in everyday life.

I find myself in awe at the generation before me that had the forethought to plant for the future. Stately bur oaks grace many old homesteads in my area of the country, whether they still have the structure of a house with them or not. The people who planted these trees generations ago were not doing so with the thought that they would provide quick shade from the summer sun, but that they would provide something their grandchildren would appreciate.

I don’t think people today are opposed to planting for the future, but it is sometimes difficult to think about the long-range plans for trees at a time when the average person could live in two or three different homes before retirement age. There is still a chance to plant for your future satisfaction, though, even if you don’t plan on staying in one place too long.

City parks, schools, universities and cemeteries offer a chance to plant or donate trees that you, your children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy. Most all of the previous entities welcome the donation of a memorial or honorary tree to enhance the grounds. There are a few things to know, however, before such an offer is made, to avoid possible hurt feelings if an offer is rejected.

A tree donor may not be able to dictate the exact species of tree that will be planted on public property. Many institutions have a landscape master plan to follow when it comes to the placement and type of trees planted. These plans ensure that the aesthetics of the overall landscape blend together. For example, it would be difficult to incorporate a flowering crab apple tree in an area where a shady species is desired.

Another reason for a master plan is for the selection of low-­maintenance trees that fit well with ever-stretched budgets. While a flowering cherry is a gorgeous tree, there is also a lot of maintenance that goes into preserving a specimen, through insect and disease treatments, in areas of the country where it is not well-acclimated.

Don’t be offended if an offer to donate a tree is turned down because of the size of the tree. Maintenance staffs prefer to plant trees that have some substantial size to them. The size of the tree is not in the name of greed, but instead is in the interest of giving the plant a chance to survive and flourish.

More mature transplants don’t require as much pruning and training to establish a healthy form and shape as do whips of trees. They have several more years of training invested by the nursery that grew it, instead of the staff of the public property in which it will reside. A more sizeable plant also will more predictably endure the damage children and animals can cause.

It’s important to realize that a school district or park department may not have room in its budget to replace the tree if something damages the plant or causes it to perish. If the replacement of a lost tree is a prerequisite to your donation, you may be asked to endow funds to the institution to cover the cost of future replacement.

Park maintenance staff may also request that a gift of a tree comes in the form of a monetary contribution instead of a live tree. By purchasing the tree from a nursery they trade with often, they are assured of a healthy, disease- and insect-free tree, which helps the chances of survival for that particular plant, as well as the others that are already planted on the grounds.

Some public places may not have any of these ground rules to adhere to in the donation of a tree, but others will. That shouldn’t keep you from honoring the memory of someone in a place for all to enjoy, or simply doing something that future generations can enjoy. I can’t think of anything that would please me more than to be responsible for evoking thoughts similar to mine when I stare into the canopy of a stately old tree.

Published on Apr 1, 2008