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After a Long Hot Summer, It’s Time to Plant Trees!

By Cindy Speas, Chair Fairfax County Tree Commission

Preserving trees and planting new native trees are major goals of the Plant NOVA Trees campaign. So, in April I wrote about how to plan for spring and fall tree planting seasons, in the summer about the dangers of non-native trees, and last month about celebrating October as Native Tree Month in Virginia. In this sequel, you must already realize I’m going to write about planting trees!

Autumn is a perfect time for trees to go in the ground. Instead of facing a long, hot summer, trees have time to get acclimated to their new space, and then they cheerfully spend the winter in a dormant state. Those who plant in the fall not only find the temperatures invigorating for physical labor, but can also look forward to budding and blooming in the spring, when the days get longer. It’s a win-win!

Christina Hester recently described in Casey Trees’ blog “The Leaflet” all the reasons newly planted trees do so well in cooler temperatures. In Fall is for Planting she says cool weather means less stress on the trees and higher rates of survival. There’s more water available for their roots, since water evaporates more quickly when it’s hot! Cooler air also reduces the threat of pest or disease damage. Of course, there’s the same chance of rain or drought as in spring and summer, so in all seasons, we need to regularly water newly installed trees to ensure success. Details on the watering schedule, which depends on the size of the tree, can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees website. in the fall, there is lovely, free mulch available when deciduous trees shed their leaves in your yard, right where you need them! All the newly planted seedlings or young trees can benefit from the soil around them being enhanced with leaves. If you use leaves for mulch, just remember to leave a wider space around the tree trunk to reduce damage to the young sapling’s sensitive outer bark.

Native trees provide our ecosystems both seen and unseen benefits. When trees are lost to development or disease or invasive vines, there must be other healthy trees of all sizes and ages coming along behind to take their place as the overstory kings of the urban forest. Maintaining and preserving the saplings so carefully planted each season is a labor of love in the service of growing healthier ecosystems and a healthier planet.

Perhaps this autumn, you might ask a child to help you—because every child that plants a tree is a part of that tree’s history, and the tree will surely find a place in that child’s heart. Searching for the right place to dig, gently spreading out a sapling’s roots in the ground, patting down the warm soil, smelling the earth after the first watering—this experience can turn a girl or boy into a plant and planet lover for life. And what we love can also become a part of an ethical journey towards caring for the whole earth that supports that one tree.

Autumn is not just a great time to plant trees, but also to reflect on the bigger picture. Doug Tallamy, famous for his research on oak trees, has started a Homegrown National Park project. The effort “has no political, religious, cultural or geographic boundaries because everyone—every human being on this planet—needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive.” And, I might add, also to thrive. Tallamy says planting native trees and plants in our own backyards will increase the biodiversity of North America, one plant at a time. Such a grand ecological vision can take root in the one act of a child helping you to plant a tree.

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