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Behind the Scenes of Planting your Trees

By Anna Fairbanks, Agriculture and Water Outreach Specialist Individual Placement / AmeriCorps member placed with Cottonwood SWCD


[Image Description] Bundles of tree saplings in a garage.
Did you know that you can buy trees from your county’s Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)? Even better, did you know that your county’s SWCD may offer a tree planting service? Here at my placement site, the Cottonwood SWCD, I have been participating in the Tree Program! Myself and the Program Technicians are currently in the middle of tree season and I would like to give you a behind the scenes of ordering trees, tree barn care, and the planting season!

Over the past year, tree orders have been taken from landowners, businesses, and cities around the county. The orders were collected and submitted to plant nurseries for purchase. In April, we prepared for the purchased trees to be brought to the Cottonwood SWCD tree barn. To get ready, we checked on the barn’s cooling system, constructed rows of wooden crates for the trees to lay on, and sprayed the barn with fungicide. The goal of the tree barn is a cool and moist environment for the bare root trees. In mid-April big semi-trucks came to drop off our inventory. We transferred the potted trees to a sunny spot behind the barn and carried the bare roots inside. We organized the tree bundles and pots by species and created a map of the barn’s layout. The barn was so full that it was imperative to keep track of where each species was and that they were getting care.

[Image Description] Bundles of tree saplings in a pile.
[Image Description] a hose watering small conifer trees in pots.
We had over 10,000 baby trees that needed care! For tree barn care, we watered the trees every day, pruned the branches and roots, and removed any fungi found on the roots. The bare roots ranged in size from small shrubs to tall trees. Small shrubs came 2-3 feet tall such as Redosier Dogwood, Ninebark, and American Highbush Cranberry. On the other hand, tall trees came 6-8 feet tall such as Elm, Amur Maple, and American Linden. The potted trees were evergreens such as Eastern Red Cedar, Black Hills Spruce, and Arborvitae placed in one- or two-gallon pots. All of these trees were purchased by customers for windbreaks, shade, wildlife shelters, yard beautification, and more.

[Image Description] small conifer saplings in pots outside.
Customers that decided to plant their own trees came to the tree barn in late April for pickups! Customer tree pickups were scheduled, and we were able to bag up orders prior to their arranged times. To prepare a tree order, we collected the bare roots and labeled them by species. The trees were then bundled together and placed into a large plastic bag with wood bedding doused in water. The wood bedding helped to keep the tree roots moist until they could be planted. We tied off the bags and labeled them by customer name. The potted trees, tree tubes, stakes, staples, and mats were counted out and set aside for orders. The customers drove right to the barn and we loaded up their trees and materials. The trees were then off to new homes!

[Image Description] Anna standing in garage full of tree saplings.
[Image Description] bundles of tree saplings with roots wrapped in plastic bags.
May is planting month for the Tree Program! All of this month we are working on planting projects. There are small planting projects that will only take half a day and bigger projects that will take a few days to complete. Before a project takes place, there is a project plan that is made by the Program Technicians and the landowner. Using the project plan, we go to the project site to stake where the trees will be planted. On project day, we pick up the trees from the barn, grab shovels, and hitch up the mechanical tree planter. The tree planter is used for planting straight rows of small bare root and potted trees. The planter baskets are loaded up with trees and easy to reach for the two people sitting on the planter. The planter is pulled by a tractor and the trees are individually placed in the tilled ground at specific intervals. The spacing between the planted trees is important for their growth. The people not on the tree planter walk behind it to make sure the trees were planted straight. Other projects call for bigger trees or random forest-like placements so, we then plant by hand.

[Image Description] a big blue machine that is hooked up behind a tractor to plant tree saplings.
[Image Description] a line of conifer saplings planted in a row.
There are a few things to keep in mind when hand planting trees. First, make sure to remove all the sod from the hole as grass may grow to smother the tree. Make sure to dig a cylindrical-shaped hole that is deep and wide enough to fit the roots. The roots should be buried one to two inches below the soil. The tree should be straight up and down when gently compacting the soil into the hole. Leave a slight depression so that water collects at the base of the tree. Then the tree is planted! Most importantly, water the tree consistently after planting!

That’s the behind the scenes of planting your trees! I’ve been having a great planting season so far! These trees will help with our health, cleaning the air, giving a home to wildlife, offering shade, reducing flooding, improving water quality, and more. I’m looking forward to seeing these baby trees grow!

[Image description] Anna taking a selfie in front of a group standing amongst newly planted trees in a field.
[Image Description] A shovel stuck in the ground with a line of freshly planted trees in the background.