Planting Opportunities with local tree groups

There’s no doubt: Climate Change is upon us. As individuals, one of the actions we can take is to plant trees. While this action won’t have the large-scale impact that controlling the fossil-fuel industry would, it does make a difference to global warming, as well as making our local environment cooler and more enjoyable.

There have been many agencies and organizations engaging in tree planting in the mid Rio Grande area over the years. Recently, a coalition was formed called “Let’s Plant Albuquerque.” The goal is to grow an urban forest, planting 100,000 trees by 2030. Currently, 11,590 trees have been planted and another 11,957 pledged. The website includes connections to some of the groups in the coalition, including: Tree NM, Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Services, The Dakota Tree Project, City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation, New Mexico State Forestry, and Tree New Mexico.

It is important to contact individual organizations to learn what dates they are planting trees this fall and the location of the plantings.

How to Plant Trees

Austrian pines with wrapped roots on tree nursery farm

In our region, September is thought to be an ideal month to plant new trees. The roots will have several months to get established before a freeze and the tree won’t be subject to extreme heat. After you have chosen a Climate Ready Tree (see reference in side bar), you can follow these steps:

  1. Dig a hole no deeper than the pot and 1 1/2 times the radius of the pot.
  2. Remove the tree from the pot or burlap.
  3. Check that the roots are not wrapped around the dirt ball. Gently try to straighten them out if they are. If they are wrapped too tightly, make a cut half an inch deep through the roots and into the root ball at 4 places, evenly spaced, around the root ball.
  4. Place the tree in the hole so the root collar (the bump where the trunk and roots join) is at ground level.
  5. Backfill using the same soil you dug out when making the hole.
  6. Place a couple inches of gravel going out 2-3 inches from the trunk. This will avoid the trunk rotting from moisture while the bark is getting established.
  7. Mulch 2-3 inches deep using wood chips.
  8. Water the area of the root ball well throughout the Fall down to 6 inches. (Push a trowel into the earth and check that the tip comes out with moist earth.) Then follow the Water Utility Authority’s recommended seasonal watering schedule.

But where do we get these trees?

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Tree Planting Advice from Joran Viers, Arborist

From an interview with Joran Viers by Sue Brown

Joran traces his interest in plants and trees to his childhood when he spent a lot of time playing in the woods. He eventually studied botany and organic agriculture. Among other things, he has been a horticulture agent with NMSU County Extension Services and a forester with the City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation. He is certified as both a horticulturist and an arborist and now has a consulting business.

Joran took the time to tell me about some of the pitfalls he sees when people select, plant, and care for a tree.

You need to pick out an appropriate species for where you want a tree, i.e., is there enough water and sunlight in that location for that particular species of tree to thrive? Will its mature canopy have enough space to develop?

Honey Mesquite, included in the “Let’s Plant Albuquerque” list of climate-ready trees appropriate for the mid Rio Grande region. Photo: Thomas Farley, Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain.

When you are at the nursery, look for a good specimen. Joran recommends digging the soil off the top of the root ball to look at where the roots take off. Do they flare or are they balled up? Roots which wrap around can strangle a tree. Also, a healthy tree will not have dead branch tips or missing bark.

Site preparation is important, not just the width and depth of the hole but the area all around needs to be prepared. Take a pick or digging fork and loosen (not dig up) the soil so there are good channels for water and organisms to go deeper .         

Mulching should be with wood chips rather than rocks. The latter add heat stress to the leaves and will not break down over time to add nutrients. Joran recommends planting your tree as if it is on a little island. The root crown should be higher than the ground around. The soil can then slope down to form a shallow basin.

But planting a tree is not going to help our community unless it is raised to maturity. In fact, if all we do is plant, let die, and replant, this type of cycle can be detrimental for our community.

Care for a tree begins with adequate water delivered where the tree needs it. In the months after planting you want irrigation to keep the root ball moist. And as the tree matures, every few years the water lines will need to be moved. A guide for putting the outer irrigation lines is to follow out from the trunk to the drip line – the line down to the ground from the tip of the tree’s outer branches. After watering, you can check if the tree is getting enough water by putting a trowel into the ground near the irrigation and see if the tip comes out with moist dirt.

Structural pruning of large shade trees needs to be done in the spring every few years to guide their growth. Suckers and cross overs are removed. Fruit trees are pruned for a weight-bearing structure, paying attention to the angle limbs come off from the trunk.

The ground around a tree continues to need breaking up with a pick or digging fork, moving out farther from the trunk each year as the tree grows. Wood mulch to 3 inches deep needs to be spread out from the tree trunk (but not touching the trunk until it has bark).

Thanks to Joran for sharing with us these tips for a more successful tree planting and for the required caring for any new tree! May we use this information to further green our region.