Tree time

Fall is a great time to plant trees

Urban forester Steve Churchillo and Lora Richards of the Truckee Meadows Community Forestry Coalition stand beneath a tree at Bartley Ranch.

Urban forester Steve Churchillo and Lora Richards of the Truckee Meadows Community Forestry Coalition stand beneath a tree at Bartley Ranch.

Photo By kat kerlin

It’s largely because the leaves are busy turning those scandalously beautiful reds and oranges, but during the fall, our thoughts turn to trees. And autumn and spring are the best times to plant them.

Steve Churchillo, urban forester for the city of Reno, stands beneath the shade of a green ash tree at Bartley Ranch and describes things people should consider before they dig that first hole. Things like microclimates, elevation, shade and sunlight, water needs and available growing space.

“The biggest thing from my perspective is planting the wrong trees because of space limitations,” says Churchillo. They may block stop signs or grow into power lines, calling for expensive removal.

The recently formed Truckee Meadows Community Forestry Coalition aims to be a resource for homeowners to make good tree choices that take the Northern Nevada climate into account, particularly when it comes to water. The group held a backyard tree care workshop in late August and expects to hold more in the future. Lora Richards works for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority and is part of the multi-agency TMCFC.

“TMWA got involved because we’re concerned with outdoor watering,” says Richards. “Our summer use is about four times our winter use, and trees are an important part of what we grow in the landscape. They provide so many benefits—shade, air quality, storm water runoff. So we’re interested in promoting tree care that’s appropriate to our climate.”

A list of waterwise trees and plants that are good to grow in this area can be found at Churchillo mentions a few off the top of his head: maple, oak, ash, crab apple, flowering pear and plum trees, and stone fruit trees like peaches and nectarines. Dwarf fruit trees are getting popular because they provide a similar amount of fruit while being easier to reach and prune, as their branches are lower to the ground.

Churchillo says some water suckers and otherwise inappropriate trees for the area include Siberian elm, silver maple, aspen, willow and cottonwood trees. The latter two are great for riparian areas but not so good for yards.

When it comes time to plant, trees are slightly less fickle than vegetables and flowers, as they don’t require extensive soil amendments before getting into the ground. They do, however, need well-drained soils. “Before planting, fill the hole with water,” says Churchillo. “If it doesn’t drain within 24 hours, you have a problem.” He advises using native soil as much as possible, to which you should add some organic matter, like compost or triple mix. Then dig a hole twice as wide as the tree and as deep as the top of its root ball.

While you may see new trees staked all over public parks, Churchillo advises against staking unless you’re not likely to keep a close eye on the tree. “Conifers tend to need staking because they catch more wind in the winter, and areas of vandalism,” he says. “But if you don’t have to stake, don’t because it can cause more damage than it helps,” such as support wires growing into the bark and restricting its vascular system.

While fall can be a good time to plant trees because it gives root systems a chance to adapt to winter weather, don’t think snow will provide all the moisture your tree needs. “If there’s not adequate moisture, the root system could dry out,” says Churchillo. To help combat that, along with freezing, he says to mulch liberally around the tree before cold weather sets in.