Growing Quality Trees-Fast
"We would like to plant an oak tree but
we don't want to wait 10 years for shade." Have you caught
yourself saying that? This is a very common comment from new
homeowners who want to plant shade trees.
Of course, everyone would prefer a fast-growing
tree. I can understand that. We don't want to wait. For that
patio, porch or roof, we need shade today-not tomorrow!
But what about the "fast" versus "slow"
growing trees? The fact is, with proper care, trees that may
otherwise be considered slow growers might not necessarily be
slow growers at all. It all depends on the care they receive.
Super shade and ornamental trees such as the
live oak or Spanish (Texas Red) oak should not be passed up
just because they are labeled "slow growers." There
are several things that you can do to speed up the growth of
First, consider the nutrient supply in the soil.
If the soil is naturally infertile, periodic applications of
a complete, slow-release fertilizer such as 19-5-9 can greatly
enhance the rate of growth of your trees.
Next, consider the spot where you will plant
the tree. Most trees experience maximum growth when planted
in full sun. Don't plant any tree in the shade and expect it
to grow quickly.
Use mulches around the tree to reduce soil temperature,
especially if planted in full sun. The spreading of organic
materials such as leaves, grass clippings or straw under and
around trees will effectively control grass and weeds, yet still
have an attractive appearance. Not only will mulching with organic
materials prevent grass competition, it will also conserve moisture
for tree root use and stabilize soil temperatures (since roots
don't like extremely hot or cold soils). Young trees should
be surrounded with at least three feet of thick mulch (3 to
4 inches deep) that is maintained throughout the growing season,
but never piled on the trunk of the tree.
The last two points to consider are probably
the most important:
(1) Never disturb the root system
(2) Reduce competition to the tree.
Even though trees have a few very deep roots,
most of the root system is very shallow. Any digging or hoeing
that damages the roots of the tree can slow its growth considerably.
And finally, keep the grass cleared from the
base of the newly planted tree as long as possible. When summer
rainfall is low and less than adequate, watering begins and
the competition for water imposed by weeds or grass turf can
substantially reduce tree growth. When competition from grass
is eliminated, tree roots are more evenly distributed, root
numbers are higher, and they utilize a larger volume of soil.
Effective utilization of soil by a larger root system will mean
that the fertilizer you have added will be utilized more fully.
When should the "bare look" begin?
The bare fact of the matter is that the sooner the better! The
longer that turfgrass is allowed to grow under trees, the greater
the reduction of new growth. There is also a culmination effect
that decreases tree growth for several years. For instance,
if the growth of a tree is reduced by 20 percent for one year
because of grass competition, the growth will automatically
be 20 percent less during the second year's growth. Grass competition
can reduce growth by as much as 50 percent.
Liberal watering can offset the retarding effect
of grass. Obviously, if the tree is having to compete with grass
for the water needed during dry periods, then extra watering
the tree will result in a more optimum growing condition. Your
trees need a deep, thorough soaking once a week in the growing
season, either from natural rainfall or from supplemental irrigation.
Whenever you must irrigate, be thorough and allow the water
to deeply penetrate. Don't overdo it when root systems are small
and tree needs for water uptake are minimum, i.e., a newly planted
tree. A baby doesn't require as much water as an adult! Too
much water for a newly expanding root system will cause root
rotting and will be visually expressed by the tree as a drought
characteristic of wilting and yellowing foliage. To avoid the
problem of watering too much, check to see how moist the soil
is around the base of newly planted trees BEFORE EACH watering.
Remember, any fool can water and most do-too much!
Maximum growth of any tree is the result of how
well you help meet the optimum growing conditions of the tree.
If you will follow these suggestions, the desirable "slower
growing" shade tree may well grow just as rapidly as one
of the "fast growers." And by planting a quality tree,
you will have added a valuable and lasting investment to your
Have an overall plan or objective for planting
a tree. Do you need shade, protection from wind, screening,
a pedestrian barricade, or a colorful accent?
Remember when you are doing your planning, consider
the tree's ultimate height and spread. Beware of planting too
close to the house, building, street or power lines.
Know your soil and climatic conditions. In our
alkaline, rocky, and caliche soils, several tree species that
do excellent in other areas of Texas, do very poorly here. Our
sudden temperature fluctuations in the spring and fall kill
many non-adapted trees each year. Use ONLY those trees and shrubs
For the best deer-resistant trees and shrubs,
use those recommended at:
I n the nursery, small trees (6 to 8 feet heigh)
may be your better investment, since they recover more quickly
from transplant shock than larger specimens. Container-grown
stock is generally the quickest to re-establish, followed by
trees that are sold balled-and-burlapped and trees that are
It's best to avoid the really fast growing trees,
since most are quite prone to pest problems. Included are willows
(borers, cotton root rot, heat stress), cottonwood (borers,
heat stress, cotton root rot), Arizona ash (anthracnose, borers),
sycamore (lace bugs, heat stress, anthracnose), mimosas (mimosa
webworm, mimosa wilt), and fruitless mulberry (borers, cotton
root rot, heat stress).
Once you purchase and plant a good tree, don't abuse it! Have
you beaten your tree lately? Maybe you ran into it somewhere.
If you accidentally did either, you damaged your tree more than
you realize. Most people do not understand that injury and infection
started by lawnmower wounds can often be the most serious threat
to tree health.
Lawnmowers cause the most severe injury during
periods when tree bark is most likely to "slip" in
early spring during leaf emergence, and in early fall during
leaf drop. If the bark slips, a large wound is produced from
even minor injuries. Most tree injuries occur when mower operators
attempt to trim grass around trunks with a push or riding mower.
You can prevent these injuries by removing the turf around trees,
or hand trimming. The site of injury is usually the root buttress,
since it flares out from the trunk and gets in the path of the
mower. However, injury is also common anywhere from the roots
to several feet above the ground. Although large wounds are
most serious, repeated small wounds can also add up to trouble.
Wounds from lawnmowers are serious enough by
themselves, but the wounded tree must also protect itself from
pathogens that invade the wound. These micro-organisms can often
attack the injured bark and invade the adjacent healthy tissues,
greatly enlarging the affected area. Sometimes, trees can be
completely girdled from microbial attack following lawnmower
wounds. Decay fungi also become active on the wound surface
and structural deterioration of the woody tissues beneath the
wound will often occur. Many wounded trees that are not girdled
may eventually break off at the stem or root collar due to internal
Bark can often be successfully reattached to
trees if the wounds are treated within a few hours after injury
occurs. Torn bark should be positioned as much as possible on
its exact position before the injury and held in place by a
few small tacks or staples. If several days or weeks have passed
since the injury, torn or loose bark should be cut away and
the edges of the wound should be traced using a band tool such
as a pruning knife.
Older injuries with callus development all around
the wound are best left alone. If any bark around old wounds
is dead it is advisable to trace the area back to live bark.
Application of wound dressing for cosmetic purposes is optional.
The lawnmower injury problem is not a tree problem,
but a people problem. It is a classic case of communication
breakdown. The solution is to educate lawnmower operators about
how serious these wounds can become, and also to protect trees
from careless grass trimmers such as weed eater maniacs and
lawnmower jockeys who use tree trunks for bumper pool. Mulching
the area around the tree trunk can provide protection from lawnmower
and weed-eater damage.