How Trees Grow

When asked to identify the stress that may have caused the tree problem that I am looking at, I often say ' just being a tree in West Texas is pretty stressful. I mean, look, you've got a tree that was jerked up by it's roots, hauled 200 to 300 miles from an environment where it was surrounded by thousands of brothers and sisters that helped shade its trunk, nobody was coming along and scraping up the annual blanket of leaf litter so they would have something to put in the dumpster. That tree was pretty happy where it was. Then somebody came along and cut off 95% of its roots, it lost 99% of its uptake capacity , 100% of it's anchorage just in time to be plunked down in a hole that is 6" too deep, smothered with that much dirt, just in time to get the effect of one of those good old West Texas dust storms. '

(For you out-of-towners that may be visiting this web site, almost all of our trees are planted by man and a good old dust storm is when the wind is up to about 30 mph by 10:00 a.m. and 50-60 mph all afternoon. This occasionally happens in the spring just about the time all the cotton farmers plow under what little organic matter they didn't strip and haul to the gin last fall. About the time the tree starts to root in just a little, it gets hit with 60-80 mph downburst winds from a thunderstorm).

'Now that it has survived a couple of years, it has the opportunity to be exposed to 114 degrees this summer after 17 below last winter and if it survives 'til next winter it might get a January day of 84 degrees 6 months after it last saw rain followed by 5 degrees that night. On top of all that, it is a tree that is native in an area that gets 26" of rain per year and grows in an alkaline soil and it's growing 10 feet from a bush that grows in the under story of the forest, gets 70+ inches of rain per year in a soil pH of 5.9. If this tree ever gets healthy, I think we can take care of it with your sprinkler system by watering it for 10 minutes every day. ' Then I tell them what I really think.

Trees are organisms that are stuck where they start. Therefore, they must be able to withstand whatever environmental conditions come along. Normally they are smart enough to not start where they won't be able to withstand those conditions. Man comes along and selects, hybridizes, cultivates, manipulates, fertilizes, applies insecticides, herbicides and a host of other things all in the name of making our own lives easier. All of that is well and good as long as we understand that there are consequences. Many times, the results aren't quite what we thought they might be. But back to growing trees in west Texas...

The first order of successful growing of trees in west Texas is selecting trees that have a proven track record of success in this environment or at least, after a bit of research about their native conditions, trees that we think should have a reasonably good chance of success here. If you don't do that, at least be prepared for the extra maintenance you've created. To make these choices, I suggest that you visit the Arboretum (again, for you out-of-towners, I'm referring to your local arboretum, but we would be delighted for you to visit ours) and stroll the streets in older parts of town where trees have reached some degree of maturity, including lower income areas so you can see trees that have survived with, perhaps, less maintenance.

The second step is to select healthy, vigorous specimens from a full service and reputable nursery. Reputable or not, make sure that they follow certain guidelines. Planting holes should be carefully measured so that the tree ends up planted at the same depth as it was in the container of prior to transplant. Planting holes should be 3 times the diameter of the rootball. This will allow for plenty of loose soil for root growth and plenty of room to take off any wire that might be on the ball.

Trees should be staked through the next windy season and hopefully no longer. Staking materials should be sufficient to handle the size of the tree. Staking should allow for some slight movement. After your tree is planted, water, water, water. It is very difficult to over water a new tree in West Texas. I have seen it, but it is very difficult. Remember, for a little while, all of the roots that that tree has, is in the rootball or container that you saw. If you're still not sure what I mean, you might give the tree one aspirin with 20 gallons of water every other day for the first 2 weeks and once per week after that.