By Luke Miller
“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” – Willa Cather, author
We could learn something from trees -- like how to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without protest. Trees are so busy living in the moment, trying their darnedest to survive, that they don’t bother bellyaching about their situation.
This tree was held hostage in a pot for too long. You can tell by the way the roots are growing around the trunk. If someone had cut the circling roots before planting, the roots could spread out, grab more nutrients and moisture, and better stabilize the tree. Instead, the growth is stunted. And if a windstorm comes along when the soil is soggy, look out! The tree may pop right out of the ground.
Everyone knows power lines and trees don’t mix. Yet we continue to plant large species under power lines. Then when they act like trees and branch out, they are mercilessly hacked into grotesque shapes. They’re not just ugly, they’re also full of weak growth that will soon be littering the ground.
Sometimes a tree is growing just fine on its own. Then someone comes along and puts up a building. Roots are severed, trunks are damaged by construction equipment, and soil is compacted so badly that moisture and oxygen can’t reach roots. Before long, the tree is on life support.
Trees don’t mix well with fences either. Fortunately for them, this is a situation trees can deal with. They simply grow around and through the fence. Chalk one up for trees!
Dry weather can spell disaster for young trees. Newly planted trees need at least 5 gallons of water a week -- they’re often lucky to get a fraction of that from busy homeowners -- for the first couple of years. Established trees can suffer, too. During a prolonged drought, they become stressed, which makes them more susceptible to insects and diseases.
Flooding has been a problem in some areas of the country recently. Fortunately, nature provides options. Swamp white oak, tupelo, bald cypress, and cottonwood poplar are just a few of the options. These river birch trees are well suited to the temporary flooding of low ground caused by spring snowmelt.
And finally, there are the diseases and insects we have brought to our shores. Chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease (see photo), gypsy moth, Asian longhorn beetle, and emerald ash borer are just a few examples. All have been inadvertently imported to North America.
Given enough time, trees will evolve to deal with these problems. But who wants to wait thousands of years? I don’t. Instead, I’m going to do my part by planting the right tree in the right spot in the right way. I’ll be sure to give it enough water and nutrients. And I’ll plant a diverse selection so that one disease or insect epidemic won’t wipe out the whole lot.