Guaranteed decorative tree success?
June 25, 2017 6:14 PM   Subscribe

We want to plant a decorative tree -- and because it's in honor of someone, I want to do as much as I can do make this a lock. What things will best contribute to success?

Is there kind of a sweet spot for the size, between the graphs of durability and cost? I don't want to spend a fortune on a ten-foot tree, but I also don't want to cheap out and drop a palm-size seedling in that doesn't survive the first frost.

We are in northern Rhode Island, which the USDA map says is "Zone 6b : -5 to 0 (F)"

I think it would be a flowering dogwood ( pink or white), and if not that then almost certainly a similar flowering tree.

We have pretty good soil: we've got a very successful Japanese maple, a chokecherry (on the lot next door), lots of flowers, a huge row of white pines next to where we will be planting this, and the grass has responded well to a little feeding and plenty of water. (The area, I am told, used to be part of a big farm.)

We took down a huge (originally 40 feet tall!) pine there a few weeks ago, and the ground is still criss-crossed by the roots of some God-forsaken wisteria vines which killed the old tree. We will probably offset the new tree a few yards from the site of the old one, to avoid the stump.

We really loved this guy, so I am even willing to put of planting the tree until next spring (mid-May would be good) if that would help.

Thank you!!
posted by wenestvedt to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I bet that someone from the URI Master Gardener program could give you zone-/site-specific advice. It's worth dropping them a line.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:51 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

My tree guy says to plant trees in the fall because they do settle in through the winter and get rained on in the spring. But if you plant them in the spring then bam! it is summer and drought and if you don't very carefully makes sure they get enough water (and how much is that exactly?) - they are very fragile and have less chance to survive.
posted by cda at 6:56 PM on June 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dogwoods aren't terrifically long lived trees. And Cornus florida is pretty susceptible to anthracnose.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:09 PM on June 25, 2017

Fall is better for tree planting, but if your winter is dry you should be prepared to provide some water that first year. I'm on Cape Cod (hello neighbor) and recent winters have varied wildly in terms of precipitation. Established trees can survive a dry winter, but newly planted ones may not.

You don't say anything about the site. Dogwood is typically an understory tree, and will not succeed in an exposed situation. Your county extension will be your friend here, or failing that a consult with a master gardener in your area (plan to pay) will improve you chances of installing a tree you'll be happy with in the long run. You live with trees for a long time; the cost of a trees the least of the elements to concern you.

One more thing - you may want to wait a year before planting a tree. You need to deal with the monstrous wisteria, which will grow anew from those roots which were left in the ground.
posted by CINDERELLEN at 5:19 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely plant in early fall or early spring -- summer is a terrible time to plant a tree.

Rutgers has done amazing work in breeding more vigorous and disease-resistant dogwood cultivars, all of which should be hardy to your area. Stellar Pink is their best-known pink dogwood, but I would also take a look at their stunning white-flowering varieties. Venus and Hyperion are particular standouts. They are all fast-growing.

As CINDERELLEN says, you will want to address the wisteria first so that your tribute tree isn't smothered in its first years of life.
posted by timeo danaos at 5:30 AM on June 26, 2017

I have planted an apple tree that was knocked down by the neighbor's dog. Fruit trees are almost always grafted on to hardier root stock, the tree broke at the graft. In retrospect, I would have used big stakes to support it. The dwarf sour cherry tree I planted 5 years ago will bear enough for pie as soon as they ripen - Yay! It's in a protected spot next to the back deck, for ease of harvest. Apple trees are in the plan for this year.

From what I have read: Dig the hole well before you plant, like a couple months. Make it nice and roomy. Make sure it has whatever compost or soil it needs to get a good start.

Planting a tree is a good idea. We didn't plant a tree for my Dad; he had already planted a lot of really nice trees at the house where I grew up. I have visited my old home town a few times, and it's nice to see they're mostly still there. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by theora55 at 10:00 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many people have planted kousa dogwoods as a substitute for C. florida and while they are attractive they are not
natives. If this is a consideration you might also consult the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society.
posted by Botanizer at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thinking about a native tree? Try the online Rhode Island Native Plant Guide.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:04 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Look up how to plant a tree. I know this sounds silly, but there are some finer points that make a difference in your tree's overall health. Providence has an urban forestry program and that page links to a tree owner's guide that will be helpful.

Will you be able to visit the tree often? If it's dry in the summer, giving it a couple gallons of water a week will help it settle in, especially if you plant in the spring. Stake it for the first year. Protect the trunk from weedwhackers (mulch in a donut around the tree is good for this and good for your tree generally).

That said, dogwoods can be unreliable even if you do everything right. The urban foresters probably have some recs for easy trees that will suit your space.
posted by momus_window at 6:24 PM on June 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

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