From The Ground Up: Top four trees to plant right now

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By Linda Skvor, Iowa State University Extension

Fall is here, and shortly thereafter, ugh, winter. But don’t hang up your garden hose just yet because fall is a great time to plant a tree or give a tree.

But which tree? Diversity is key. I turned to the Iowa DNR’s District Forester, Mark Vitosh, for his selection of favorite trees and the reason behind his selections. Mark’s top four trees are:

White Pine (Pinus strobes). Only pine tree native to parts of Iowa and grows 1 to 3 feet in good years; good screen and windbreak tree; often has irregular (giant bonsai-look) as it matures.

Norway spruce (Picea abies). Large evergreen; weeping branches with large cones that look like the counter weights in old grandfather clocks; good screen and windbreak tree.

White Oak (Quercus alba). Large wide spreading majestic trees good for large yards or open park areas; maroon-purple fall color in good years; probably the longest living oak type in Iowa; great food source for a variety of wildlife.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo bioloba). Slow growing but unique and durable shade tree with open form; some cultivars have bright yellow fall color, and once there is a good frost, all of the leaves usually fall all at once meaning leaves only have to be raked once.

I asked Mark the biggest mistake homeowners make when planting a tree, and Mark replied, “It is important to match the tree with the site you need to know soil type, available sunlight, space to grow, etc. Find out what the ultimate size of the tree will be and make sure there is enough space for the tree to reach its mature size. Many future problems can be avoided by planting the tree in the right place. Also, improper planting depth is a common concern along with not eliminating root-bound roots.”

Consider giving a tree as a memorial. The Korean Sun Pear (Pyrus fauriei ‘Westwood’) my family received at our time of loss has become a treasured fixture in our yard. This tree has brilliant red-orange fall color and the promise of small white flowers in early spring. The compact size of the Korean Sun Pear (12-15 foot tall and wide) has maintained a nice shape over the years with very little pruning. Funny, I probably would have overlooked this tree but now it’s one of my favorites. For this ‘tree-hugging’ family, this gift was perfect.

Pick a non-traditional tree. The Sargent Crapapple (Malus Sargentii) is one of those low growing trees that spreads more wide (12 feet) than tall (6 — 10 feet). It’s maze of branches grows beautifully just about everywhere but up and is quite unique to view, even in winter. The snowy white clusters of flowers in spring are quite fragrant, and the pea-sized fruit lasts throughout winter.

l For gardening questions and tree questions, call the Linn County Master Gardeners Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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