The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 26, 2012

Arbor Day a good day to check trees, plant new ones correctly

By Joe Hadsall
Globe Features Editor

JOPLIN, Mo. — Arbor Day has new meaning in the Joplin area. The day dedicated to trees will be celebrated with giveaways of new trees and further assessments of tornado-damaged trees.

One phenomenon in Joplin calls for tree owners’ attention: Fuzzy trees. In the words of local band Me Like Bees, those naked trees are greening again.

Jon Skinner, an urban forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation, says that the phenomenon is a tree’s reaction to the stress of not gathering enough sunlight (which must be absorbed through the leaves to give a tree any nutrition).

“Trees that look like poodles have had so much limb breakage that they can’t eat,” Skinner said. “The only way it can get food is to put more leaves on. It’s a natural biological effect.”

Skinner said such a tree may be in trouble, because it is attempting to stay alive. Some trees can survive easily; for others, the trunk-leafing may be the last thing a tree does before dying.

Even though planting trees gets most of the attention on Arbor Day, the day is perfect for calling an arborist to determine whether or not a tree can be saved, Skinner said.

New trees

Many have offered tree giveaways in Joplin since the tornado, and more will continue Friday on Arbor Day.

Last week, the Arbor Day Foundation and Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center distributed 12,000 trees throughout Joplin as part of tornado recovery efforts.

The city of Joplin will host a program Friday in honor of the day. In conjunction with Empire District Electric Co. and the MDC, the city will give trees to area residents and celebrate the city’s Tree City USA status.

Thousands of trees -- including more than 200 trees in Cunningham and Parr Hill parks -- were lost in the tornado.

While there is plenty of space for planting new trees, homeowners may not have the same luxury. Ensuring that a tree has room to grow is the most important thing to consider before picking up a free tree, Skinner said.

Homeowners should look at several things:

“That’s the most major component,” Skinner said. “All of those things will affect where someone chooses to put a tree.”

A tree’s roots can extend underground just as wide as the branches above, Skinner said. Those roots, if too close to a building, can exert pressure on its foundation and cause damage.

Likewise, the tree may grow too high and cause problems in power lines or on a house’s roof.

However, Skinner said, the many species of trees grow in different fashions, and some of them fit perfectly within certain limitations. Whereas a dogwood needs a little shade throughout the day, for instance, a red bud will handle unblocked sun like a champion.

Planting differently

Skinner said planting trees is a little bit different, too. Where people used to be taught to bury the root ball at or below the surface, now experts say to leave a little bit exposed.

Skinner said that all the dirt should be shaken off a tree before planting it in the ground. Dig a hole shallow enough so the first big roots on the tree are slightly higher than the surface, depending on the depth of the root ball. If necessary, a tree can be held up with stakes and tight lines.

“If it can stand up without staking, then it’s better not to use it,” Skinner said. “But if the wind is strong enough, and it wants to blow over, you may have to stake it.”