Favorite flowering trees such as redbud, dogwood, Japanese maples and other flowering trees highlight landscapes with color this time of year. The red foliage of many cultivars of Japanese maple is a local favorite too. These and other colorful spring favorites always inspire others to add new trees to landscapes; but a long-lasting, successful planting of trees takes more than luck.

Right plant, right place method

Often we select a favorite tree then plant it in an available spot in the landscape without checking both a potential tree’s requirements and what the planting spot has to offer it. I’ve made this mistake before, so as an adult plant lover, I often tell myself no while shopping in nurseries for plants until I evaluate the planting spot and the tree species match. A large part of the right plant right place method requires a good understanding of the selected plant’s growing requirements and does it match the conditions on the future planting spot or can the planting spot be modified to benefit the planted tree.

A good personal example is the tale of two small green Japanese maples seedling grown by yours truly nearly 15 years ago. Planted about 15 feet apart at the entrance to a small gazebo, it would seem they both would have the same chances to thrive. One problem I missed was aspect and another was competition from other nearby trees.

I doubt if many plant enthusiasts think about aspect (in the botanical sense) before they plant a new tree or shrub. A major mistake I made was underestimating the effects of aspect (the compass direction to which a plant habitat is exposed or the daily degree of exposure from sunlight, shade, heat and cold temperatures) on the Japanese maples.

Both trees were planted on the north side of my gazebo, but the one planted facing to the northeast did better than the one situated on the northwestern aspect. Hot late afternoon sun dipped below the upper crown shade of a nearby tall pine to broil the maple facing to the west each summer. Additional, freezing winter winds from the northwest damage branch tips on the western tree during several severe winter periods even though the two plants were less than ten feet apart.

Right plant or place

or not

Both maples eventually wound up in less than ideal conditions because they were not allocated enough growing space for a long and healthy life. Existing pine trees and seedling hardwoods nearby eventually began to crowd both trees for sunlight, moisture and nutrients.

Another aspect, (different item) is choosing a (good) right plant from the nursery. All too often; as an extension agent, I visit declining plants that should have been thrown in a compost heap instead of a homeowner planting. Trees held too long in containers with many circling roots or overall poor root systems. These trees often have a sinister way of living just long enough for owners to get attached to them.

Right way to select

and plant

Once a good spot (place) is chosen and a good plant of the right type is chosen, then the finishing step is planting and caring for it the Right Way. As a young forester, while learning to plant bare root pine seedling, the instructor message was, “green side up, brown side down.”

This sounds simplistic, but it is a good message. A frequent tree planting mistake is deep planting where green tissue or the stem is buried underground and extra dirt is thrown on top; a very bad method for trees on clay soils. Add the terrible method of piling large amounts of mulch on the stem often leads to circling roots and crown rot which can kill the tree. Plant at the depth of the first root and mulch lightly with zero mulch piled on the stem. Actually, the planted stem should be free of mulch in a 2-3 inches open circle.

If you have questions or need advice, you can call our office on East Cambridge at 864-223-3264 or stop by.

James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.