If you are trying to reforest a significant portion of your property or plant a large number of trees for wildlife habitat deciding what size of trees to plant is easy: Unless you have a bottomless bank account, you need to plant seedling trees (and of course protect them with tree tubes so you only have to plant once!).
But what if you are planting a smaller number of trees, for example, in your back yard? Even if you can afford to plant large potted or balled & burlap (B&B) trees for the project, did you know that there are several good reasons to plant little seedling trees instead?
1. Greater species selection – a much bigger variety of species are available for purchase as seedlings than are available as large potted or B&B trees. In artists’ terms, you have a much great palette to work with when choosing seedling trees – the equivalent of a full palette of oils as compared to the box of 6 Crayola crayons often available as B&B sized trees.
2. Faster growth – it takes much longer for larger trees to overcome “transplant shock” and begin to grow again. This is true even of most potted trees, since they weren’t actually grown in the pot they are sold in; they were harvested bare root and potted up only a few weeks ago. Seedling trees – especially seedling trees in tree tubes – start growing right away and catch up with larger trees.
3. Better root form -More than likely, by the time you buy a larger potted or B&B tree that tree’s root system has been planted and pulled from the soil at least 2 times. Each time it is replanted the root system can get deformed, causing problems years down the road.
4. More fun! Frankly, it’s a lot more enjoyable to start a tree from a tiny seedling and watch it grow up – especially when it happens as fast as it does with a tree tube!
5. Much cheaper! The cost of a high quality seedling and the best tree tube on the market (the Tubex Tree Tube from Wilson Forestry Supply!) is probably in the ballpark of $10 – less than a movie and popcorn for a tree that will live for a century or more.
6. Longer life – Potted and B&B trees often develop spiral or circling root systems and, over time, can literally strangle itself to death; as this circling roots grow they constrict the growth of other roots and of the trunk. This is part of the reason that urban landscape trees planted today have such short lifespans, as opposed to those planted 100 years ago which were planted as seedlings or small “whips.” Seedling trees, planted properly, develop perfect radial root systems that do not need to be severed, lifted, packaged and replanted. Rule of thumb: The smaller the tree you plant, the longer it will live.
7. Better form – Starting small means you’re in control of the pruning and maintenance of your tree from the beginning, so you can be sure all the pruning cuts are properly made, and the tree has a single main stem. Better form = longer life because poor pruning cuts, narrow branch angles and forks in the main trunk all are points of weakness, frost cracking or breakage.
8. Ability to plant native species – Many native species, notably oak species, are not widely available in large garden centers. And we should all be planting more oaks – they grow faster than you think!
9. Tree tubes are a great conversation starter. First your neighbors will wonder what those plastic tubes in your yard are. Then they’ll see a tree bursting out the top in just the first or second summer, and they’ll ask you where you bought them (it’s OK to tell them).
10. Bragging rights – Gardeners brag about the earliest corn, the biggest pumpkin or the most bountiful tomato vines. Tree planters brag about fast growth, and the way to get fast growth is by planting seedlings (or even acorns/walnuts/chestnuts) and covering them with tree tubes. Be sure to use a permanent marker to mark the tree’s progress every week (yes, you will get significant growth every week!)