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Go native when planting trees
April 22, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen Trees in Gering’s Legion Park are just starting to sport their foliage for the summer season. Now is a good time to consider planting your own trees. All it takes is a little preparation and forethought.

Arbor Day, originally celebrated in Nebraska, is a great time to start thinking about adding a tree or two into your landscape.

“When you’re selecting a tree, make sure it’s a species that will grow well here,” said Amy Seiler, Community Forestry Specialist with the Nebraska Forestry Service. “The new zone maps have placed us in zone five, but we should still be planting trees that grow in zone four because of our local temperature variations.”

Seiler said it’s also important to be aware of tree quality when purchasing. Look for a quality root system that isn’t wrapped around itself in the pot. Be sure there’s no damage to the tree’s trunk, sometimes caused by shipping or by hail damage from the previous season.

“When you bring a tree home; don’t plant it too deeply,” she said. “Feel around in the tree ball for the first lateral root.
That’s as deep as you should plant. We’d rather make the mistake of planting the tree too high than planting it too deep.”
Seiler added that when planting, you should dig a wide hole, about two to three times as wide as the root ball. That allows the needed space for young feeder roots to grow and spread out.

In addition, you should include a large mulch ring of six to eight feet in diameter. The larger the mulch ring, the better the tree will thrive.

Once you’ve planted the tree, it needs to be staked, especially in windy western Nebraska. “We stake our trees so they don’t blow over,” Seiler said. “Don’t tighten the support to the point where the tree can’t move. The tree needs to have some flexibility to move in the wind.”

The stakes should be removed as soon as the tree’s root system is established, usually about a year after planting.

“I encourage people to plant native trees as much as possible because they’re so well adapted to our area,” Seiler said. “Some of the species that do well here are Burr Oak, Hackberry and Kentucky Coffeetree. “Some aren’t native to this area, but are very tough trees that have adapted well to our local conditions.”

She added there’s a misconception that some species, especially the oaks, grow slowly in our local environment. If planted properly and cared for, their rate of growth is similar to other trees.

For landowners who what to try something more “daring,” Seiler recommended Chinkipin Oak, English Oak, Ohio Buckeye and American Linden, another Nebraska native. All of those species are larger shade trees.

Some homeowners might have power lines running over their property. In that case, smaller trees are in order. One of Seiler’s recommendations is the Hot Wings Maple, which can tolerate the local alkaline soil conditions. Manchurian Apricot is another good choice for deciduous trees. It typically won’t produce fruit in this area, but has beautiful fall color. Gambel Oak is also a good choice for smaller trees.

For those who want to plant evergreens, recommended species include the native Ponderosa Pine, which does well in the Wildcat Hills and the Scott Bluff National Monument areas. Pinion Pine is another good choice.

“We’re getting away from Colorado Spruce,” Seiler said. “They just don’t like our hot, dry temperatures. None of the conifers like salt, so don’t over-irrigate your lawn.”

Seiler said her biggest concern is for species diversity. “Some trees have been overplanted here, such as Green and White Ash. They’ve performed poorly in our climate and are also susceptible to pests like ash borers.”

For Gering residents, the city will help with the expense when you plant a tree. The city will rebate 50 percent, up to $100, for tree species that qualify from the recommended list. The tree must be planted in the front yard and must be at least six feet tall. There are other restrictions, so contact the City of Gering at 308-436-5089 for complete details.

For more information on tree planting and care, contact your local nursery or call Siler’s office at the North Platte Natural Resources District, 308-632-2749.
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