Winter may be dragging on, but we’re getting one of those reassuring reminders that spring will come — the tree sale.
Sales by cities like Blaine and the Anoka Conservation Distict offer some of the best deals on quality, locally grown trees and plants selected to flourish in the area. But the choices can be overwhelming: Do you want the showy springtime blossoms of a wild plum, the bird-enticing elderberry or the spectacular autumnal blaze of a red maple?
Two north-metro foresters talk trees, giving advice on selection and planting.
When selecting a tree or shrub, consider natives first.
The sandy soils of Anoka County can be tricky for tender new trees and plants. Want to avoid excessive care and worry? For best results, especially for novice planters, focus on native trees and brushes, recommends Joan Spence, a wetlands specialist and community forester with the Anoka Conservation District.
“They are adapted to our area,” said Spence, who has two master’s degrees in environmental and soil science.
Native plants “can survive the soils, moisture and climate without needing additional care,” according to the conservation district, which anticipates selling an estimated 13,000 trees this year.
If native trees don’t appeal to you, the conservation district also sells several nonnative species and bush varieties including fragrant lilac and white plum that can still thrive in the region.
The conversation district offers a comprehensive chart of trees and plants for sale, listing growth rate, height, shade tolerance, moisture and soil types, and fruit and flower production.
Don’t forget the birds and the bees
When selecting trees, don’t just focus on what the humans would enjoy. Consider what will entice birds, butterflies and bees to your yard. Spence admits she is partial to bushes and trees that produce fruit because of the flutter of wildlife they attract.
Diversify your yard
Blaine City Forester Marc Shippee said not diversifying is the number one mistake people make. Homeowners plant just one type of tree or bush. Then, one act of nature — Dutch elm disease, arrival of the emerald ash borer or oak wilt — can force you to clear-cut your lawn.
“It’s human nature. You fall in love with one particular type of tree and that’s all you plant. These days, it’s autumn blaze maples. Everyone loves an autumn blaze,” Shippee said. “I recommend planting a variety of trees. If you have a variety in your yard and something comes through, you won’t lose your whole yard.
Spence also recommends selecting floras that bloom and bear fruit at different times to add visual interest and keep your yard a wildlife hot spot all year long.
Don’t obsess over the name game
Some of the most majestic, appealing trees have meager names. For example, there’s the hackberry.
“They are gorgeous, and the hackberry is very similar in form to the American elm,” Shippee said. “It’s an excellent tree with no serious disease or insect problems.”
But a common response Shippee gets to that suggestion: “Hackberry! That doesn’t sound very good.”
Another terrific tree with an iffy name is the swamp white oak. Sounds spooky, but they often have the look and hardiness residents are craving, Shippee said.
Also, don’t be put off by the bush label, Spence said. Many bushes grow tall and have other attractive attributes. One of her personal favorites is the elderberry.
“They can grow 15 feet tall. It has fruit and it’s really good for pollinator species and birds,” Spence said. “It brings a lot of wildlife to your yard. It has white flowers in the spring that smell really good and they have fruit that we enjoy, too.”
Before you plant, look down, then up!
It’s important to consider spacing from your home and between trees.
“You always need more room than you think,” Spence said.
Shippee also advises residents to look up and consider power and phone lines that, in years to come, can tangle with your tree.
Go wide, not deep
Hoping to promote deep roots, folks often dig deep holes, dump in fertilizer and then plant a tree.
“To hold up a tree, roots must grow out more than they grow down,” Spence explained.
“You want to promote outward growth of roots to achieve stability.”
Spreading the roots will also help prevent the oft-fatal condition called girdling roots. Twisted roots can eventually cause a tree to weaken and die a decade or more after it’s planted.