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"Believe it or not, this is a good time to plant a tree," by the Whistling Gardener

Japanese Maples. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Japanese Maples. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Trees are our friends, in more ways than one. There are a multitude of benefits that we receive from trees and it never hurts to remind ourselves just how important trees are to our ecosystem.

As we look around the world at the incredible loss of both temperate and tropical forests, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out that this loss has got to have some effect on our climate. Forests are a climate stabilizer. They act as a buffer to the extremes of weather by moderating the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An acre of trees can absorb the same amount of carbon dioxide one car can produce in one year by driving 26,000 miles.

Think about the gazillions of cars in the world and then think about the gazillion acres of forests that are now either buildings, roads or airports and it should be obvious (even in our Evergreen State) that we need more trees.

In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the air, trees also filter out particulates. Trees filter rainwater and prevent erosion, which keeps our salmon happy. It has been proven that trees (and landscaping in general) can reduce crime in neighborhoods as well as increasing property values. Trees have positive effects on our mental health (check out the topic of “Forest Bathing” if you don’t believe me). They help reduce the summertime temperatures around our homes and can provide habitat for wildlife.

While I realize I am mostly preaching to the choir, the real question becomes when and where is the best place to plant a tree.

For trees that grow 60 feet tall or more, you will probably need more room then you have so leave those large shade trees to the parks and green belts. Focus on trees that are in the 25 to 40 feet range. They can be flowering types like cherries, plums, crabapples, dogwoods or magnolias or they can even be fruit trees (although fruit trees, because of the need to prune them for fruit production, will never absorb large amounts of carbon or provide much shade but they will fill our bellies with lots of yummy fruit).

There are ornamental trees like Katsura, Weeping Beech, Japanese Snowbell, and of course Japanese Maples that make lovely specimens and are size appropriate. And there are smaller evergreens, like Hinoki cypress, Leyland cypress and Cryptomeria, that will also fit into our yards quite well. In other words, there are lots of options. Plant them all in full sun with good drainage, unless the label says otherwise.

As to when to plant, believe it or not, August is a fabulous month for two very good reasons. One, the soils are warm and with an appropriate amount of water, your tree will root in and be ready to grow come next spring. The second reason is that lots of garden centers are looking to reduce inventory so now is the time to find some bargains. Talk to the nursery professionals about how to properly plant your trees using organic transplant fertilizers, compost, and most importantly, how to treat the root system - especially if it is root bound.

With proper root pruning, good watering practices, a generous dose of organic fertilizer, and a healthy tree to start with, you should have no problem establishing your tree. There is no need to wait until the rains come. By then the soils will be too cool to encourage new roots.

Sunnyside will be hosting a free class, “Fall Containers,” Saturday, September 1, 2018, at 10:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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