Many tree varieties available locally; experts offer planting tips

We ask owners of Goderie's, Kulak's and Bob's Trees for advice
Pete Goderie with a flowering pear tree at Goderie's Tree Farm in Johnstown.
Pete Goderie with a flowering pear tree at Goderie's Tree Farm in Johnstown.

The weather is warmer. The outside beckons. Maybe it’s time to do some yardwork. Why not plant a tree?

“You can plant now up to July,” said Pete Goderie, who with his family owns Goderie’s Tree Farm in Johnstown. “The window for us is getting them out of the ground by May.”

Goderie’s grows several types of hardwoods and evergreens on their 50-year old, 250-acre former dairy farm. Among the most popular are red maple, birch, linden, flowering pears, crabapples, hemlock, spruces, and arborvitae. Most of what customers choose in the hardwoods will be trees that are already up to 10 years old but whose stem measures only about two inches in diameter and are up to twelve feet in height. Once dug up their root systems are balled and then wrapped in burlap.

At Bob’s Trees in Hagaman, Bob Eaton grows trees that began in Oregon as grafted hybrids, which are delivered to him as bareroots after they’re two years old. These are like three- to five-foot stalks with root systems, which he plants and grows for up to five years. They include sugar maples, linden, honey locust and five varieties of oaks. He also grows several shrubs that include burning bush, lilac and shadberry. All plants are suitable for this hardiness zone and any tree he doesn’t grow he can order from Ohio.

Although Bob’s has been in business since 1942, choosing which trees to plant on his 275 acres can be a risky business.

“You grow these bareroots, which cost $35 to $40 a tree, for four or five years with the hope someone will buy them,” Eaton said. “That’s the kicker.”
Having acres of various evergreens, including spruce, firs, and white pines, many of which he sells as Christmas trees is, however, a little more guarantee-able.

Although both businesses can deliver and install the trees, there are several points of concern people, especially for customers who plant their own trees, should know. Where will the tree be planted? Most trees want as much sun as they can get. Only shrubs like hydrangeas, yews or hemlock can do 50 percent shade, Goderie said. What is the soil like? Sandy? Clay? How wet is it?

“No one likes wet feet except maybe a willow,” said John Kulak of Kulak’s Nursery in Rexford. “They’re not fussy.”

Kulak doesn’t grow trees but brings in a wide variety of deciduous trees, ornamentals, evergreens and shrubs, including red maple, oak, birch, red bud, dogwood, plum and cherry trees as wholesale from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Connecticut and New Jersey. These will be balled and wrapped in burlap or put in containers that range from seven to 25 gallons. Most of the trees will already be five to 10 years old.

Other things to consider: how tall the tree will get in maturity — some trees can reach over a lifetime to more than 60 feet, so does the customer want the tree to stay low and not block their view; block a fence, powerlines or wall; or provide as a wind break. Also, do not put a tree in a leach field, near a septic tank, wires or too close together, Kulak added.

How is the soil’s pH level? Some trees like evergreens or shrubs such as blueberries like the soil more acidic, which is a low pH, while hardwoods do better with a high pH or more alkaline level, Goderie said. Some trees also prefer to be well drained, such as sugar maple or certain oaks, blue spruce and Frazier firs, otherwise they get diseases.

“Putting them in sandy, well-drained soil on a hillside is best,” he said.

Although it’s best to get the tree into the ground once it’s purchased, balled and burlaped trees can stay out of ground for sometimes up to two seasons as long as they’re kept watered and mulched. 

“You can’t let root balls dry out, even transplants,” Goderie said. “They need to be damp, even on windy days.”

Planting the trees or shrub has specifics: if a ball is 30 inches in diameter, which means the stem would be about three inches in diameter, then dig a hole that will be 42 inches wide and 18 inches deep, Eaton said. However, no tree is like another tree.

“There’s no rule of thumb,” Kulak said. “You dig a hole half as deep and half as wide as the ball.”

For trees whose balls came in plastic and not burlap, remove the plastic. Burlap will decompose in a year or two. A wire that keeps the burlap on can remain, since it will break down in up to five years, and is handy should a customer want to move the tree later, Goderie said.

Once in the hole, add nutrients, then fill the hole but keep the top of the ball at least one inch above the finished grade, Eaton said. Do not pack the soil around the tree’s trunk. And do not mulch into what growers call mulch volcanos. 

“They may look aesthetic, but they’re not good for the trees,” Goderie said. “Cells in the tree’s stem above and below the ground will change [and] affect the root’s moisture levels. They’ll shut down and starve the tree. The trees with these volcanoes are in shock.”

The tree must also stand straight, so put two stakes — one facing east and one facing west, to support the tree to prevent the wind from ripping up the tree’s new hair roots, Eaton said. 

Watering in those first weeks is essential. Water every other day for the first two weeks and possibly up to a month either at a slow trickle through a hose for 45 minutes or as much as you’d get in a half day of rain. Always try to avoid overwatering. Never let it dry out but don’t waterlog the soil.

“It all depends on the soil,” Kulak said. “Sandy soil you water more frequently.”

After about a month, water only once a week preferably on the same day until the ground freezes. After a year, the tree can manage on its own and you can take the stakes off, he said. In the winter, protective wrap can be put around the trunk to deter rabbits and mice from nibbling at the bark.
“They’ll girdle the tree,” Goderie said.

Once the tree has been in place for about three to four years, pruning can be done to shape a tree, remove dead wood. Some trees like evergreens can be done in July; apple trees prefer winter months; maples and birches like the fall; most bushes can be done anytime except for shrubs like lilac or hydrangeas.

Prune these only weeks after they’ve blossomed. Pruning in the fall will remove the buds for the following spring. 

Doing all this will make for a successful tree.

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