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How to Plant Trees to Boost Property Value and “Curb Appeal”

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Plant trees yourself and you'll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)
Plant trees yourself and you’ll save money, beautify your property, and increase its value. (Flickr/Beatrice Murch)

It’s no coincidence that one of the first items renters add to their apartments is a plant. Having something living and growing in a rental unit can transform it from a generic living space into a home. It’s no surprise, then, that planting trees around your buildings can create curb appeal and make them more attractive to potential renters.

In addition to the beauty they provide, trees also provide shade that can keep homes cooler in warmer months, saving owners and renters on air conditioning, and act as buffers against freezing winds in winter, reducing heating costs.

Trees also add tremendous value to a property, according to the results of studies compiled by the Arbor Day Foundation. Benefits include:

  • Mature trees have a “‘strong or moderate impact’ on the saleability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98%,” 83% of realtors said in a study by Arbor National Mortgage & American Forests.
  • According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, “A mature tree can often have an appraised value of between $1,000 and $10,000.”
  • A Management Information Services/ICMA study says, “Landscaping, especially with trees, can increase property values as much as 20 percent.”

Trees clearly represent a long-term and potentially valuable investment. If you’re planning on adding new trees to your complex or yard, you certainly can do it yourself to save money, but you need to do it the right way, starting with choosing the right type of tree.

Choose the right trees for your environment

Climate plays an important role in planting. Newly planted trees do best when exposed to moderate temperatures and rainfall. They need time to root and acclimatize before the heat and dryness of the summer or the freezing temperatures of the winter months, which makes early fall — which is right around the corner — an excellent time to plant. (Spring and late winter are the other best times.)

In addition, depending on your property’s conditions, one species of tree may be a better choice than another. For example, oak trees like a certain degree of acidity in the soil, while willow trees love excessively moist soil. Other things homeowners might consider is the size, privacy, shade, and color that a tree may offer.

Talk to a local arborist about choosing the right trees for your property and consider your local climate before you buy. Even if you don’t hire the arborist to plant your trees, he or she will be glad to advise you on which type to buy (and, of course, sell you some healthy trees).

8 Steps for planting trees and caring for your investment

Once you’ve chosen the type of tree, here’s how you get it in the ground:

1. Prepare a hole two- to three-times as wide as the root ball of your tree
The most common mistake you can make is digging a hole that is too deep and narrow. If the hole is too deep, the roots will not have access to a sufficient amount of oxygen to ensure proper growth. If the hole is too narrow, the roots will not be able to expand enough to be able to nourish and structure the tree properly.

Before you start the actual digging process, spread a plastic tarp on the ground to the side where you plan on depositing the dirt. This will make it easier when you have to refill the hole. After the perfect hole is dug, you should then roughen the sides and bottom with a pick or shovel. This will help the roots grow strong into the soil.

2. Place the tree in the hole
Be firm yet cautious when removing the tree from the container. This is best done by laying the tree on its side with the container near the hole you just created. Speed is a very important factor in this process. You want to move quickly yet cautiously so the root or root balls don’t dry out. Once your tree is removed, loosen the roots from the sides and bottoms with your hands, then gently uncurl the roots so that they are facing away from the trunk. This ensures they won’t cut into the trunk as it expands.

3. Position the tree where you want it
Move the branches so they are not in the way of anything. (Fifteen inches from power lines, other trees, and roads is a good measure to stick to.) If you prefer to see a certain side, you can turn your tree to be in the viewpoint you want. If you choose to turn the tree, make sure you are lifting it by the root ball and not by the tree trunk base itself.

Have the root ball sitting a half-inch to 1-inch above the surrounding soil surface so that it will not rot as it grows later on.Fill around the root ball with the loose soil from your tarp. Use your heel or the handle of your shovel to press down on the dirt to collapse any large air pockets in the soil. This will help stabilize the tree in the hole. While doing this, constantly check the trunk of the tree to ensure that it’s straight.

4. Support your tree properly
A big mistake often made is over-staking trees. If your tree is sturdy, there is no need for extra support. If your tree does need support, make sure to place the stakes outside of the area you just soiled on opposite sides, approximately 18 inches from the trunk. From the stakes, place tree tape loosely around the trunk. The ties should be loose enough to allow the tree to move back and forth slightly in high wind. Stakes are usually needed for up to six to 12 months.

5. Water!
Make sure to water the tree shortly after planting it. Your tree is going to need about 15 gallons of water over the next couple of weeks, so continue to consistently water it. After awhile, the tree’s roots will have reached the outside soil and will gradually need to be watered less and less.

6. Mulch!
Fertilizer is little to no help and could even be harmful to your new tree, but do go for mulch. Cover the planting area with a four-inch layer of mulch. Keep it at least two inches away from the base of the trunk. According to Fra-dor, Inc, a landscape supply company, mulch serves several important purposes.

“As a protective layer, mulch guards against harmful variations in soil temperature, traps the moisture in the soil, and fends off nasty weed growth,” say the folks from Fra-dor.

Mulch also prevents a hard crust from forming on the soil surface, and it serves as a great reminder to avoid stepping or mowing around the tree.

In addition to mulch, newly planted trees can benefit from Mycorrhizal Fungi. Adding this fungus to your soil will help promote the growth of the roots and discourage damaging fungi that could ruin the tree’s development.

7. Check your work
Now that your tree has been planted, there are two common situations you want to make sure you avoid:

  • Drowning — Double check the root moisture of your newly planted tree. The soil surface conditions are much different than what’s underneath, so do not let that fool you. Check the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. You want the soil to be moist and not soggy. Sprinklers are a very good way to not only save water but save you from this problem.
  • Suffocation — You want to avoid planting your tree too deep in the soil. The root crown, which is where trunk meets the roots, should be 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches above ground level.

8. Keep pruning
Now that your tree is safe and sound in the ground, it’s critical to keep up on its pruning. According to TreesAreGood.com, starting to prune your trees while they are young will mean easier maintenance in the future and less corrective action in the future.

Twin Cities-based Precision Landscape & Tree recommends pruning in the spring or fall.

“Pruning after the coldest part of the winter has passed is the most common time to prune,” a Precision pruning tip article advises. “Trimming during the tree’s dormancy allows for a very fertile spring. Pruning in the summer after your tree’s seasonal growth is over, is also an option if you aren’t a fan of the cold.”

The tree you add to your yard may require some special attention for a while, but the shade, beauty and environmental benefits it provides to our home, neighborhood and planet are well worth it.

Happy Planting!

Have any landscape success stories of your own? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Caitlin Burgess
Caitlin Burgess

Caitlin Burgess is a former journalist who writes guest blog posts on a variety of topics including criminal law, landscaping techniques and materials and home improvement.