By Carol Boncella
Only a few days into spring and the trees in the garden are slowly awakening from their winter slumber. The dormant leaf buds, expectant with the promise of magnificent green canopies, are enlarging right before our eyes.
Even without their leafy foliage, trees reveal beauty in their magnificent forms -- spreading, conical, pyramidal, weeping, rounded, arching or columnar.
Our country has a long history of keeping trees a part of our landscape. In the late 1800s, J. Sterling Morton, a nature lover and editor of the Nebraska City News, encouraged civic organizations, settlers and homesteaders to plant trees in communities and farms on the then-treeless plains of Nebraska.
"Each generation takes the earth as trustees," Morton said. "We ought to bequeath to posterity as many forests and orchards as we have exhausted and consumed."
The pioneers eagerly grasped the idea, so homesick were they for the trees they had left behind. They recognized that trees would provide shade, shelter, fruit, fuel and beauty. Thus, on April 10, 1872, the first Arbor Day was celebrated with great ceremony.
Ideal planting time
Following Morton's suggestion, other states adapted Arbor Day celebrations. Today, every state in America and many countries throughout the world observe the day with special tree-planting ceremonies.
Arbor Day observations differ by locale, each observing it on the date best suited for planting trees in that area. Kansas celebrates Arbor Day on the last Friday in March -- the 30th this year. Ideally, trees are planted when they are still dormant in early spring or after they have become dormant in the fall.
Tree selection depends on the reason for planting. Trees may be chosen for their ornamental form, fragrant blooms, tasty fruit, unusual bark, interesting leaf patterns or striking fall foliage. They may be planted to frame a house, hide an unsightly structure, provide shade or protect from the cold and wind.
Trees may be purchased as balled and burlapped (B&B), container-grown, prepackaged or bare root. Each has slightly different planting instructions, which should be followed accurately to give the tree its best chance for survival. A few rules remain constant for all types.
Keep the roots wet; do not allow them to dry while you are digging the hole. Place the plant to the same depth at which it had been growing (that is, do not make the planting hole any deeper than the depth of the root ball). Remember to move and lift the tree carefully by grasping the burlap or root ball rather than the trunk.
When planting a B&B tree, hand-dig the hole to the proper depth and make the vertical sides to a diameter of about 1 foot wider than the root ball. Once the tree has been lifted and placed into the hole, carefully cut away as much of the burlap as possible.
Eventually, the remainder of the burlap will rot, though slowly in dry sites. Be sure to examine the wrap, assuring that it is actually burlap. Synthetic wraps do not deteriorate like burlap and must be removed completely prior to planting.
When planting container-grown trees, the container, even the pressed paper ones, must be removed prior to placing the tree into the ground.
Pressed paper containers decompose slowly, especially in dry sites, and may inhibit the health of the tree. Plus, if part of the rim is exposed to the air, it acts as a wick, causing the soil to dry quickly and robbing the roots of moisture.
Planting bare root trees requires a mound of soil at the bottom of the planting hole on which to set the roots. Prior to planting, cleanly clip away all broken or damaged roots. Gently spread the roots without allowing any of them to overlap on each other or curl backward.
After the tree has been set in position, backfill the hole with the soil that was removed. Create a ring of soil about 6 inches high around the edge of the filled-in planting hole. This acts as a miniature dam and prevents runoff when watering the tree.
Water trees thoroughly and regularly for the first year while they are most vulnerable.
Then, sit back and watch your tree grow. Each year, sometime after the official start of spring, you will notice, as we do now, the leaf buds enlarging. Soon after leaves will appear. The rest is pure enjoyment.
-- Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.