Planting trees this spring? These pre-plant tips will help!

We must be well into the new year because I've finally stopped writing the wrong year on my checks. It's about this time every year that both professional landscapers and home gardeners start thinking seriously about spring planting.

Now is the perfect time to be thinking about the characteristics of your planting site. This is particularly important if trees are on your spring planting agenda.

"It pays to plan well [and to] know your planting site," says Yvonne Barkley, a forestry extension associate with the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho. According to the publications Barkley has authored on the subject of planting, "planning well" and "knowing your site" mean evaluating all of a planting site's characteristics and anticipating the effects they're likely to have on the species you want to plant.

I found Ms. Barkley's comments online in an article titled "How to Prepare for Spring Planting" on a web site maintained by the Society of American Foresters. I have set up a direct hot link to that article at my web site, Find this column archived under the "Plant Man" heading and simply click on the link

In that brief but very valuable article, Ms. Barkley provides an excellent primer on tree planting, that is helpful for both amateur and profession landscapers. Her points include:

Site Conditions Before you plant, think about the characteristics of your site. Characteristics such as soil type, slope, accessibility, proximity to water, etc, will definitely affect the viability of the trees you plant. For instance, if your site includes low-lying, wet areas, it is inadvisable to plant seedlings that cannot thrive in those conditions... regardless of how much you really want to see them on your land!

Species Selection Different tree species have different tolerances to the environment, particularly in their formative years. To improve the chances of having strong, healthy trees, think about conditions such as the average amount of annual rainfall, the dates of the first and last frost, and so on. Then select species that enjoy those particular conditions.

Weed Control You might remember a recent "Plant Man" column in which a reader recounted a sad story about a neighbor kid who thought he was doing a good deed but ended up mowing down a row of tree saplings that were largely hidden in the long grass. Ms Barkley recommends establishing a weed-free zone approximately three feet in diameter around each seedling. Thereafter, to keep competing vegetation at bay, use a herbicide suitable for use near the type of tree you plant. Reason? You're less likely to damage the delicate trunks and roots than if you were to use a hoe. Or the neighbor's mower as our reader discovered!

There are a number of other good pre-planting tips in the Foresters article, and I suggest you surf over there and read it as part of your spring planting preparation.

Because soil preparation is so important, I'll devote an entire column to that subject real soon. Meanwhile, let me know if you are facing any problems as you prepare for your own spring planting. You can reach me at the e-mail address below, as these readers did:

QUESTION: "We have an area where we would like to plant a small evergreen. It's mostly clay though we did fill in the area with topsoil. The soil does not drain well and I drowned the last evergreen I put in. Anything else I can try? There are bayberry bushes, holly trees and anonymous bushes in front of where we want to plant. Any advice or another suggestion would be much appreciated." - Tim & Sandy

ANSWER: I have an area just like that myself. One thing that I am going to try is to elevate the soil where I want to plant and then divert the water somewhat. One simple but effective method is to put in a small French drain to divert the water. Also, you might want to click on the link to the article mentioned above. It's possible you might need to re-think the species of tree you plant, or select a less waterlogged site!