How to plant a tree correctly

How to plant a tree correctly

Angie's List member Robert Kirsch of Columbus, Ohio, inherited several stately mulberry trees when he moved into his house 25 years ago. But he offers this advice to other homeowners: Don't plant them.

"They attract carpenter ants," he says, and the fruit attracts vermin and birds. "We have spent a lifetime spraying these trees."

Homeowners need to consider many factors before buying and planting a tree this spring, says Mike Donley, owner of Donley Complete Tree Care in Pickerington, Ohio. From the messy fruit of a mulberry, female ginkgo or crabapple to the destructive root system of a silver maple, the wrong tree in the wrong place can create problems for years.

"Before you plant a tree, seek the consultation of an expert," says Donley, who's certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. "An arborist is your first person because they are trained specifically for trees."

Donley says the key is to find the right tree for the right location. Silver maples, for example, grow fast and have shallow root systems that can damage patios, driveways and sidewalks. In addition, the wood is less dense and therefore more prone to break during a storm, he says. Red oak and sugar maple trees, on the other hand, tend to hold up better.

A certified arborist will help a homeowner navigate the numerous tree varieties, Donley says. Pear, mulberry and other fruit-bearing trees should be kept away from driveways, patios and sidewalks because the fruit will stain the pavement, he says.

Disease resistance is another factor to consider. In light of the emerald ash borer infestation, ash trees are not an option. "You can't really find them in a nursery, and if you do, they are super cheap," says Chris Ahlum, certified arborist and vice president of A-rated Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation in Hilliard. "They really shouldn't even be sold." All 88 Ohio counties now have a quarantine on moving ash wood.

But other diseases also pose a threat. Angie's List members Dennis and Vikki Pignatelli of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, lost several crabapple trees in December to fire blight, a lethal bacterium. They replaced them with disease-resistant varieties of redbud and magnolia.

Ahlum says fire blight, which primarily affects pear and crabapple trees, hit the Columbus area hard last year. "We saw more fire blight than we had in the last five years combined," he says, attributing it to an unusual combination of temperature and humidity that fostered the bacteria. Telltale signs include shriveled brown or black leaves, as if the tree has been burned.

Equally important for a good tree experience is proper planting, Ahlum says. Plant a tree too deep and it won't get enough oxygen. "They think if they plant it deep, it won't fall over," Ahlum says. "The deeper you get, the less water and oxygen it will get.

To see the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ online guide for planting trees, go to

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