"Roses are red..." and so are these trees!

When St. Valentine's Day is on the calendar, it seems that everything you see is colored red! Every billboard, every store display... even neck ties and sweaters. And of course, it's traditional to buy our loved ones a single red rose, or even an entire bouquet. Nothing wrong with that. It's very romantic.

However, within a few days, even the freshest roses will wither and die, and that might not be the message you intended to convey! So here's my idea for a gift that has a little more permanence. Sure, give your sweetie some roses (and it wouldn't hurt to include chocolates, dinner reservations and something sparkly from the jewelry store). But I suggest that you also give your loved one a tree!

Now, a full size mature tree would be a little unwieldy, so I'm suggesting your tree comes in the form of a bareroot plant. I have to say that, to the average eye, a bareroot tree plant looks about as exciting as a dead twig, so it helps to cut a picture of the mature tree from a catalog or download a photo from the Internet. You can then attach the pic to the plant with a red ribbon.

Look your loved one in the eye and say, "This rose is a symbol of my love for you today. And this tree is like our love tomorrow and forever. Over the years it will lay down roots. It will grow and become stronger. Just as this tree gains strength from both the sunshine in summer and the frost in winter, so shall our love grow through both joy and sorrow that we shall weather together as season follows season."

You're welcome to have that little speech as my gift to you. But if you forgot to buy the roses, you might want to leave out the first line!

Of course, trees make wonderful gifts any time, so there's no need to wait for particular holidays. But in keeping with the color theme, I thought I'd suggest some notable "red" trees that will make memorable gifts for your loved ones... or for yourself.

When it comes to "red", there aren't too many trees that can beat the Red Maple (Acer Rubrum). It's an excellent specimen tree with red blooms starting in mid to late March into April. It has superb crimson fall color and is ranked in the top five for shade trees.

Some of the Acer Rubrum varietals include Red Sunset, October Glory, Autumn Flame and Montgomery Red Select. All of which I think are breathtakingly beautiful! As with any tree, it's important to determine its viability in the "plant hardiness zone" in which you live. If you want some guidance, e-mail me at steve@landsteward.org and I'll get right back to you with some answers.

Another blazingly colorful beauty is the Northern Red Oak (Quercus borialis), known for its strength; its speed of growth and its brilliant fall color. You'll need some room (and no nearby overhead power lines) for this tree as it can grow to 90' in moist to dry soils. Wildlife are attracted to it because deer, bear and many other mammals and birds eat the acorns. After a few years it will become a beautiful shade tree.

Here's a less familiar "red" tree idea for you to chew on: Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). Sweetgum would be an excellent choice for an urban or suburban setting and is frequently chosen as a lawn, park, or street tree. It has very beautiful, deep glossy leaves in summer that change to rich yellow-purple-red tones in fall.

So there you have it: some "red" living gifts – for you loved ones or yourself – that go beyond roses!

QUESTION: "I planted three Bradford pear trees about three or four years ago. I know I need to prune them, but have a few questions. They stand between 7-8 foot tall. One has a trunk diameter of about two inches and a branch (about 1 inch diameter as it comes off the tree) that starts 6-8" from the ground and extends to the top of the tree. I'm guessing cutting it out would take away fullness, but would be compensated for despite it's size? Another tree has a trunk base diameter of about 1.5" and a large branch (3/4-1" diameter at exit) that exits the trunk about 6-8" from the ground, BUT, this branch extends well above (8-12"?) the top of the central trunk." – Robert Schremp

ANSWER: The best rule of thumb for trimming trees is to trim all the lower branches to about five foot from the top of the ground. You do this so that when you mow you can easily get under and around them. Plus, it makes for a more pleasing look to the tree. You will not hurt the size of the tree and it will become fuller at the top giving the full look that you want.