Tree Planting Tips and a Future Tree Plan

Tree Planting Tips and a Future Tree Plan

(C. Proxmire, Oct. 27, 2012)

Brian Cooley is the Community Arborist, Ferndale’s resident expert on trees, shrubs and other beauties of nature.  For years he has been part of the annual Arbor Day tree planting and he also has a track record of working with the City and with residents when they have tree questions or concerns.

On October 18, Cooley was the guest of Transition Ferndale, a group that is designed to encourage sustainable living.  The group, which is part of an international movement, has had several speakers and movie nights about contentious community building since it began in April 2011.

Members are currently considering a mass tree planting, with as many as 1,000 new trees going up throughout the city.  The idea originated with Ann Heler, who has been an activist for many years who most recently has dedicated her time to starting the FernCare Free Health Clinic.  Transition Ferndale member Sherry Wells says Heler is still busy keeping FernCare going, but that Transition Ferndale is working on the research and initial steps.

Cooley’s advice gives a great start.

“If you’re going to do this kind of project, you have to be realistic about the amount of follow-up care that will be required,” Cooley said.  He explained that mass tree plantings that happen, usually around Arbor Day, are rarely successful.  “They give out thousands of seedling trees and they get planted but almost never make it.  They’re too small, they don’t get planted properly, they’re not protected by wind, they end up getting run over by lawnmowers or chewed up by dogs.  They realistically don’t work.”

Cooley said that the ideal way to give a tree a healthy start is to find trees that have a three inch trunk, although usually the City plants ones that are 1 ¾ inch to 2 inch because of the price and the experienced staff they have to do follow up care.  Trees that are under one inch thick don’t generally have enough roots and strength to handle being moved and planted.  But even with a healthy tree it’s not just as easy as sticking it in the ground and letting Mother Nature do her thing.

Freshly planted trees need lots of water, and they must be treated with insecticides as the tree grows.  He said this could get to be expensive, with treatments per tree costing about $10 per tree per application if they can get it in bulk, not including the cost of having a professional apply it.  A quality tree will cost from $200- $1000 or more.

The big question was what types of trees would be appropriate for Ferndale.  Cooley said that Maples are by far the most common tree in Ferndale, and that it’s a good idea to diversify.  Trees have been lost through entire regions due to things like the Emerald Ash Borer, Gypsy Moth infestations, and Dutch Elm disease and Maples will likely be the next plant to face trauma, with an Asian Long-horned Beetle infestation moving dangerously close to Michigan.

modern tax“We don’t want any more Maples because they may not make it,” Cooley said.  He explained that planting a variety of trees is the best defense against disaster.  Some trees recommended for Ferndale include:  Liberty or Homestead Elm, Black Gum, Cloned Kentucky Coffee, Ornamental Pear, Ginko Trees (male only), and Ivory Silk Lillacs.

Transition Ferndale members wanted to know about fruit and nut bearing trees, and if it would be possible to plant an orchard somewhere in the city.  Cooley said some barriers to an orchard would be the difficulty in growing those types of trees, the high cost of insurance, the care needed in applying pesticides and the cost, and the feasibility of having people committed to the care they need.

He pointed out that trees take decades to grow, and that quality trees take the longest.  “Faster growing trees tend to come at the expense of weak wood,” Cooley said.  “If you want something that is going to be strong and be there for your kids and your kids’ kids then it’s going to be expensive and it’s going to take years of commitment.”

It’s also important to keep in mind the area where the tree is being planted and how that tree might fit in once it’s gigantic.  “Right plant, right size, right place,” is a mantra Cooley often tells people who say they want to plant a tree.  Will the tree’s roots grow down into drains, push up sidewalks or driveways, or destroy the foundations of buildings?  When it grows will it interfere with power lines? Will it block off too much sun for a yard?  Will it leave droppings that stain one’s car or deck?  Will it encroach upon neighbors or compete with other growth?  Putting thought into the tree selection from the beginning can save a lot of headache down the line.

Cooley also shared some of his tips for planting a tree appropriately, including making sure to remove as much plastic or burlap from the base as possible, and not planting it too deep below ground level because the bark needs air.  The roots, however, will dry if exposed to air, so it’s important to keep them as covered as possible during the process.

While the tree-planting project may still be a ways away, Transition Ferndale members were glad to learn more about what they’re facing if they proceed.  To find out more about Transition Ferndale, or to get involved with the tree-planting project, visit their website at htt-p://  To reach Brian Cooley, Community Arborist, call 248-752-6630.

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