April 21, 2010

Why I plant trees

I have planted more than 75 trees on my half acre lot and in another quarter acre strip of untended common property that abuts our lot. About 80% survive. Sixty of the seventy five trees.  Fifteen of those were planted by the builder and by a landscaper we hired to put in maples and birches and spruces (and a Bradford Pear!) in the yard the first year, and they were pretty large specimens going in.

The remaining 45 trees I planted myself, on my hands and knees, digging rocks out of the soil and pulling root bound saplings out of plastic containers.  You can see what kinds I planted in the tab at the top of my blog "About my plants".
When I started planting trees, it was an entirely accidental confluence of necessity (I wanted screening from the road) and accident (they had cheap trees at Lowe's).

It began in 2005, when I came home from an errand at Lowe's with some spindly $24 whips in five gallon pots, exclaiming to Jim: Look! These fit in the car's trunk!   I can plant them and we'll have a little forest to buffer the back yard from traffic!   I can do this I think!  And so I did, going back to Lowe's several times, putting my bargains helter skelter on the back hill, to look as if a wild forest had grown there naturally.

Here it is, with mesh deer protectors around some (hard to see in the photo, it was all just weeds and twigs and a green mess).  The trees were species red maples, silver maples, three sweet gums they had one spring but never again, several pin oaks, a tiny persimmon from an arboretum sale, and a tuliptree.

My epiphany came when I planted the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera).  It was the biggest of the Lowe's saplings I had purchased, very spindly and exceedingly root bound.  I freed it from the pot, teased the choked roots apart, rinsed them off, spread them out and planted my little stick in rocky, loose soil on the hill.  This is where it gets weird:  The tuliptree sighed.  Audibly and unmistakably, as I freed it and planted it.

With some watering it shivered visibly.  I swear it shook itself off, trembled, and by that evening it had grown.  By the next morning it was the happiest plant I had ever seen.  The leaves had filled out, the trunk had straightened up, it had added maybe an inch of height, and the whole tree just looked ....  thankful.  It looked grateful.

With that, I was hooked.  I wanted to plant more trees.  I went on to study, learn and become familiar with species, cultivars, special needs and special benefits of trees of every kind.  Not every tree was as dramatically relieved to be unpotted and planted as the tuliptree had been.  Some even resented it, and either declined or up and died.  But I kept planting, and even if the saplings didn't react enthusiastically right away, many did settle in after a time and start to grow. 

And my tuliptree continues to thrive.  Last summer I found a volunteer, far from the tree I planted, nestled up against the house foundation.  I potted it and I will plant it out in the field this year.  The leaves are so distinctive, and it was so clearly a message from my grateful sapling, a beautiful way for it to say to me: I live because of you, and I multiply because you rescued me. 

Plant trees. 


  1. Geez, Laurrie, this is kinda moving! :)

    I too *love* trees and will be planting more.

  2. I vote five new hearts for this one!

  3. We are looking for about 3-4 trees to plant in our small backyard garden. It is trully a nightmare of having to decide which ones would be best. There is so much to consider when you have little space. I don't want them to take over the whole yard, but we need shade. The problem with nurseries in sydney is that they all stock about 5 tree types, they are all the same and all boring! People just don't bother planting trees anymore here as the yards are tiny and the council rules for removing them later if needed, are impossible and restrictive. I love trees and I am going to find some good ones if it kills me!

  4. Garden Ms. S, I'm glad my little tree story moved you!

    Diana, Awwww, thanks!

    Kathryn, I applaud you wanting to put in trees, even in a small space. Your climate certainly is mild so I think you could grow what I do. Some shrubs trained to a single stem look nice as trees that stay 10 - 15 feet at most (Viburnum prunifolium, witch hazels, Corneliancherry dogwood, hydrangea Tardiva, fringetree... oh my I could go on!) Some Japanes maples can stay quite small. Can you find any of those in Sydney?

  5. I too love trees. You sound like me in that, as my husband would describe me, you have a 10 acre imagination for a half acre lot. You will be so pleased with the forest you are planting. It sounds like Johnny Appleseed didn't have anything on you. Don't forget the understory trees, such as paw paws. The Zebra Swallowtails need them. The world needs more Zebra Swallowtails.

  6. Good for you Laurrie, one day all your little babys will be tall strong trees and you won't be able to believe what you have accomplished. I better get busy and catch up, I have only planted 36.

  7. Lisa, I love that expression: a 10 acre imagination for a half acre lot -- so very true. I was just thinking of a paw paw to go out in the filed near the persimmon! Might still do it.

    Deborah, I'm already seeing so much growth, it's unbelievable how much bigger they've gotten.

  8. Laurie, I was seriously thinking about doing a post on the trees I have planted ! You have to be proud of that hillside, and many of those trees will be there when you are gone. Planting a tree is a great way to contribute to the well-being of the environment. Good for the trees, and good for you!

  9. Deborah, I'd love to read about the trees you have planted, so I'll look for that post!

  10. That was such a nice post. I sighed when the tree did. Love the name of your blog. We can all be boring together.~~Dee

  11. Dee, thanks for visiting and for sighing with my little tree!

  12. What a great post! I now must move to a different house so I have enough land to plant trees. This might be an expensive blog-reading session. Your tulip tree reminded me of Charlie Brown's christmas tree - all straight and happy!

  13. We have a stand of wild Tulip Trees between our house and the neighborhood that I am very fond of. They are in bloom now.

    Trees do have character. I have favorites that I visit like old friends.

  14. Kelly, My tuliptree did remind me of a Charlie Brown tree! You should see it now, 3 years later, it's gotten huge. I'll have to try to post a picture.

    Sweet bay, You have such wild treasures around you.. sorrel trees, tulip poplars... it must be wonderful.


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