How to Plant a Tree

Our maple tree.

The stump of our maple tree.

We have an enormous back yard.

That’s one thing we like about the neighborhood:  the big yards.

The branches of a huge maple tree used to stretch the width of the back yard and make an umbrella of shade.

We sat on lawn chairs under the tree.  We ate hamburgers from the grill and Hy-Vee potato salad under the tree.  I read Angela Thirkell and Anna Karenina in our Adirondack chair (which splintered next winter when we left it outside) under the tree.

Last spring our tree was wounded.

A thunderstorm boomed and cracked.  A limb was torn off by the wind and fell across the neighbor’s driveway, extending from the garage to the street.

We called the tree service and they removed the branch the next day.

They looked at our tree.  “It will have to come down.”

I wondered, “Couldn’t we just prop it up or something?”

You see, we have had storm problems before.  A few days after we moved in, a storm tore the neighbor’s tree in half and brought it down on our roof and across our driveway.

We had to be calm.

But where was our luck?

Trees were down all over the city.  There was no power.

The power was out, the roof and garage roof were damaged, and I couldn’t cope.  The stove was electric:  I needed coffee. I rushed down the street to Friedrich’s, because their generator was working.  We live in urban neighborhoods so we can rush to urban coffeehouses in emergencies.

On the way home, carrying a Super-Grande coffee (or something), I chatted to neighbors.  Ours is a quiet neighborhood, and nobody sits on his or her front porch much.

But that day we were all outside, though some of these neighbors haven’t been seen in their yards since.  “Hi, I’m Kat.  A tree  fell on our house.”

“Oh, you live in the cottage,” one man from a Big House said.


“Trees fall down,” one serious man said.

“Yeah, but…like this?”

Huge branches and trees were down all over the neighborhood.

We waited till January to have our maple cut down.

St. Patrick's, 2006

St. Patrick’s after the tornado, 2006

This is the way we live now.  Storms and power outages. FEMA is here every time we turn around.   A tornado destroyed St. Pat’s church in my hometown, the church my mother attended her whole life.  When it was rebuilt, it was too far out of town for my mother to drive.  She had to make do with taking taxis to St. Wence and St. Mary’s.

And so you cope.  It’s a tree. I can plant a tree.

And now it’s spring.  There is no shade in our back yard.

It is upsetting.

So we’re going to plant a tree.

But just try the internet for information. Here’s what I’ve found out from the agricultural extension service.

There is a lot of information about rootballs and site preparation.  There is also a long list of trees, without illustrations, and a chart telling us life span, growth rate, etc.

Do you know these trees?

nannyberry tree

nannyberry tree

Black Maple
Bur Oak
Chinkapin Oak
Northern Pin Oak
Red Oak
Shingle Oak
Swamp White Oak
White Oak
Cockspur Hawthorn
Downy Serviceberry
Kentucky Coffeetree
Pagoda Dogwood
Shagbark Hickory

Howards EndYou know the tree I would really like?  The wych-elm tree in Howards End.

You would think a tree would last forever.

What do you bet our air conditioning bill is going to go up?

Did you ever use the book Treefinder on a hike?  That was pretty useless.

Have you got any hints about trees?

Here are some lines about trees from  J. B. Greenough’s 1900 translation of Virgil’s Georgics.

Apples, moreover, soon as first they feel
Their stems wax lusty, and have found their strength,
To heaven climb swiftly, self-impelled, nor crave
Our succour. All the grove meanwhile no less
With fruit is swelling, and the wild haunts of birds
Blush with their blood-red berries. Cytisus
Is good to browse on, the tall forest yields
Pine-torches, and the nightly fires are fed
And shoot forth radiance. And shall men be loath
To plant, nor lavish of their pains? Why trace
Things mightier? Willows even and lowly brooms
To cattle their green leaves, to shepherds shade,
Fences for crops, and food for honey yield.
And blithe it is Cytorus to behold
Waving with box, Narycian groves of pitch;
Oh! blithe the sight of fields beholden not
To rake or man’s endeavour! the barren woods
That crown the scalp of Caucasus, even these,
Which furious blasts for ever rive and rend,
Yield various wealth, pine-logs that serve for ships,
Cedar and cypress for the homes of men;
Hence, too, the farmers shave their wheel-spokes, hence
Drums for their wains, and curved boat-keels fit;
Willows bear twigs enow, the elm-tree leaves,
Myrtle stout spear-shafts, war-tried cornel too;
Yews into Ituraean bows are bent:
Nor do smooth lindens or lathe-polished box
Shrink from man’s shaping and keen-furrowing steel;
Light alder floats upon the boiling flood
Sped down the Padus, and bees house their swarms
In rotten holm-oak’s hollow bark and bole.
What of like praise can Bacchus’ gifts afford?
Nay, Bacchus even to crime hath prompted, he
The wine-infuriate Centaurs quelled with death,
Rhoetus and Pholus, and with mighty bowl
Hylaeus threatening high the Lapithae.

11 thoughts on “How to Plant a Tree

  1. I love trees and I join you i mourning the maple. It was beautiful and it made shade for you.

    There are fast-growing trees and slow-growing trees. The fast ones tend to be short lived. If space permits you might plant at least one of each kind. Locate the fast-growing one, like a willow or a maple, where it can give you some quick shade and the slow-growing in a more permanent location, but not too close to the house. It is so pleasant to glance out the window and see your tree. I like pin oaks for shape and sugar maples for fall color. To cut the sun from the house meanwhile, you could consider some sort of trellis with vines.


  2. I worry about the maples at my late parents’ house. We’ve already had to take a few down on the sides of the house and I fear the ones in front won’t last much longer–they’re about 54, 55 years old by now.

    I was surprised to see Chinkapin Oak on your list. I remember chinquapins growing on bushes in my aunt and uncle’s yard, dwarf chestnuts and very delicious, but not what you’d plant if you want a shade tree.


  3. Thank you! We’ve never had to look into this before, and I do need some help. This is useful information, and I’ll look into a trellis, too. (I don’t even know if we had a sugar maple or a black maple.)


  4. Susan, it’s a shame about your parents’ maples. I’m only beginning to learn about trees’ longevity. I will cross Chinkapin oaks off the list. There are so many varieties of oaks. My list seems to include not only trees for yards, but trees for forests!


  5. Kat, a platoon of 15 mature Bartlett pear trees was just recently cut down a block away from my house. They were gorgeous in the spring with snowy white blossoms, but they are considered dangerous because of their shallow roots. They twist and turn and sometimes shatter in a windstorm and therefore they had to go. I protested and was told that the trees really only have a life-span of 20 years or so. I never really thought of trees having a cut-off date. I thought they just lasted forever.

    The pear trees have now been replaced with London plane trees the trunks of which are barely as thick as the stakes used to hold them erect.

    When I moved into my house, there was nary a tree or bush on the long, narrow lot. I yearned for “one good tree” and about three-and-a-half years ago, I planted a river birch smack in the middle of the yard. It has flourished. It has wonderfully interesting bark on its three trunks and offers a frilly shade to the yard. It was my best buy ever!


    • My son in New Jersey has had excellent results with river birch, a tree I was previously unfamiliar with. They had one in the front of the house and liked it so much they planted another in the back. It made quick shade for their patio.


  6. Thank you for all your suggestions. River birches are lovely!

    Belle, so sorry about the Bartlett pear trees. I hope the plane trees do well.

    It’s time to plant a tree.


  7. A fascinating post. My commiserations to you on the loss of a tree. The list of potential newcomers is strange to me – I’ve heard of hardly any of them! Just shows how far away from the USA the UK is.


  8. Yes, we must have different trees! I don’t know many of these varieties of “native trees.” We called them, when I was growing up, maple, oak, willow, apple, pear, etc. We must plant something…


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