Think it’s too late to plant a tree?   Seize the day, and do it now.  Autumn is an excellent time to plant a tree.   Before the temperatures plunge, a fledgling fir still has a chance to establish roots underground during fall.   Like a long-term relationship, it can be a bittersweet endeavor as you endure the winter months and await the buds and blossoms of spring.

If you really want to have this tree long term, do your homework and find out all you can about the needs of the tree.   It might appeal to you on a purely aesthetic level when you’re shopping, but try to imagine it actually living and growing in your own yard.

So, ready to plant a tree in autumn 2009?    Get started with great planning advice, courtesy of Edith Makra, arborist and Community Trees Advocate at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Landscape.     How much room do you have for a tree?     The last thing you want is a tree which overshadows your yard.   It might look adorable when it’s young, but it may grow into an unsightly behemoth, more than you bargained for, and a burden you’ll someday need to hire someone else to remove.

Purpose.     Do you want form, function, a bit of both?    Figure that out in the planning stages.   For ornamental trees that are more about art than practicality, Makra sites the Eastern redbud, copper leaf beech, and Japanese maple.   Want a tree for shade?    Makra suggests the oak or bald cypress.   Value privacy?    Makra says the conifer is a good choice.

Site:     Where do you live in Chicago?   If you live in an area that’s covered with mature trees, choose a variety that does well in the shade, says Robert Smith, Staff Arborist at The Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska.    Again, don’t forget about your above-ground growing space.   Figure out where you’ll plant it and how large it will become.

Soil:    Is your soil acidic?   Alkaline?    It’s also good to know about your soil’s texture and drainage, says Jay C. Hayek, forestry specialist, University of Illinois Extension.   Clay soils predominate in Chicago, so you want a tree that will be happy and healthy in clay.

Diversity:   Think urban forest, and aim to diversify.   Hayek advises against planting your favorite tree several times over.   It might have great features, but then so did the ash tree before the emerald ash borer.

Shopping savvy:     Actually bring photos of the area where you intend to plant, along with measurements of the area when you go to the store, says Scott Goczkowski, landscape design manager at Lurvey Landscape Supply & Garden Center, Des Plaines.

Staying power:     Do you need instant gratification?     If you want that long-term relationship with your tree, take your time.   Don’t buy a fast-growing tree on impulse just because you feel you have to have it now.   Makra advises a slow-growing tree, which provides a better foundation to support the weight of the tree as it matures.  It’s worth the wait.  Why rush?

Remember, your tree is going to be with you for a long time.   Do your research and learn all you can.   Resist the urge to impulse buy before you know what you’re getting into.   Have fun and check out these great websites for research:

Arbor Day Foundation

Illinois Arborist Association

Morton Arboretum

University of Illinois Extension

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