In the Garden:
Lower South
January, 2001
Regional Report

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Lacebark elm is an attractive shade tree. It offers a decorative bark that sheds in small patches to reveal a mottled gray to rust color.

Planting and Pruning Trees

These late winter days are prime time for planting and pruning our shade trees, and the trees in a neighborhood I was driving through the other day reminded me of some common mistakes folks often make.

Common Planting Mistakes

One street was lined with the "king of southern trash trees," the Arizona ash (Fraxinus velutina). The developer undoubtedly received a good deal on quite a few of these trees and was told they grow really fast. Every front yard had one.

Now thirty years later, I can see that the neighborhood is paying for that good deal. One house has no tree. It died already. Another has a skeleton of a tree, which through intensive corrective pruning has been made to resemble a massive outdoor hat rack. At another home a major limb had broken in a winter storm and was lying on the roof waiting for the insurance adjuster to arrive. The lesson here is that quality trees are worth the investment.

Better Deals

It's worth the time and money to get quality species, plant them correctly, and then mulch, water, and fertilize them properly. Proper care can transform a slow- to medium-growing species into a medium- to fast-growing one. Some of my favorite shade trees for the lower South are lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolium), Shumard red oak (Querqus shumardii), chinkapin oak (Q. muhlenbergii), bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

Check with your local nursery professional or county extension office for a list of quality trees for your area. Be sure to describe your site and soil conditions (heavy clay, sand, thin and rocky, good or bad drainage, dry, wet, etc.) so the expert can make a better recommendation.

Proper Pruning

Pruning is perhaps the least understood and most abused of all gardening chores. Many people head outdoors with loppers in hand and little knowledge of the plant's ideal form, the best time to prune, the proper way to make a pruning cut, or when to stop. Incorrect pruning results in poor growth, unnatural plant forms, and poor flower and fruit production.

Pruning Know-How

When you prune, you should have a specific purpose in mind - to shape plants, remove winter-damaged limbs, or contain plants that are outgrowing their area. Plants such as roses and crape myrtles can be pruned to improve flower production. Fruit trees can be pruned to increase new growth and fruit formation. Pruning an old plant can help rejuvenate it and encourage new growth.

Your local nursery or extension office or Web sites are good places to pick up information on the best way to prune fruit and shade trees.


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