Tree Planting Guidelines

Planting Seedlings - 48 Per Milk Crate
Same Site - 36 Months Later. Tree Growth Nearly 1 Foot Per Month
Planting Seedlings
48 Per Milk Crate
Same Site – 36 Months Later. Tree Growth Nearly 1 Foot Per Month

Selecting and planting trees are not tasks shrouded in mystery and magic. However, both the novice and experienced tree planter should heed these prudent suggestions.

Nurseries sell trees in three forms: bare root, balled-and-burlapped, containerized. Bare root trees, as the name implies, lack soil or growing media on their roots. Therefore, it is imperative never to let the roots dry. The wise planter should soak the roots in water or cover them with wet peat moss and store them in a cool place until planting time.

Balled-and-Burlapped trees, on the other hand, retain their native soil. Although losing 90% or more of their root system during the digging process, these trees generally have a higher survival rate than transplanted bare root stock; yet, if the root ball is not kept intact during transplanting, survival is reduced considerably.

Containerized plants are currently very popular. However, containerized plants frequently suffer from poor root structure. While often unseen at planting time, kinked or encircling roots will cause future health problems for the transplant. During the transplanting process, these deformities must be gently straightened or cut!
As written and compiled by Jenna Terrez (CPS) and Mark Peterson (SAWS)

Selection Guidelines

When choosing the right tree for your home, remember the following Five S’s:

  1. Specific — the purpose of your new tree, i.e. shade, privacy, color, etc. Always choose a species that corresponds to your landscape need.
  2. Site — the matching of plant biological requirements to the physical conditions of the site. For example, plants preferring acidic soil must be planted in acidic soil. According to the Trees for the San Antonio Region guide, avoid planting trees that:
    • Will block traffic signs or street corners;
    • Are too close together;
    • Block transformer doors;
    • Are within three feet of clearance around the sides and back of a transformer; or
    • Are too close to sidewalks or pavement
  3. Space — describes the need for adequate room above (both vertically and horizontally) and below ground for future growth. Canopy trees are great trees to plant on the west side of your home to help shade your house from the afternoon sun; however, canopy trees ought not to be planted under utility lines. Instead they should be planted 20 feet away from the lines. Utility-friendly understory trees are can be planted five feet away from the lines and eight feet away from the poles.Follow these guidelines for proper tree spacing:
    Tree Size Distance from Building
    Small 10 feet
    Medium 15 feet
    Large 20 feet
  4. Structure — refers to an individual specimen’s physical attributes, such as a straight and well tapered trunk, well distributed branches along the entire trunk, branches smaller than the main trunk, 50% or more of the branches originate in the lower 2/3’s of the trunk, or significant wounds on the branches or trunk.
  5. Standards — the proper height and root ball proportions as defined in the American Standards for Nursery Stock. Of the standards mentioned within the manual, the most important one is the standard concerning root ball size. With the exception of very large diameter root balls, minimum root ball diameter should equal or exceed a ratio of 12” for each inch trunk caliper. Above all else, purchase a quality specimen and examine it carefully before you make the purchase.

As written and compiled by Jenna Terrez (CPS) and Mark Peterson (SAWS)

Planting Process

Always remember the old gardener’s adage: Always plant a $10.00 tree in a $100.00 hole!

Prudent planters no longer refer to the spot where the tree is to be planted as the “hole” but rather as the “planting area”. Current research indicates that the ideal habitat for a newly planted tree is a planting area that is three to five times the diameter of the root ball and has been loosened and mixed by shovel or rototiller. Feeder roots, some as fine as human hair, quickly exploit this moist, aerated soil, providing the tree with the water and minerals it requires to grow. A planting area constructed thusly bears a striking resemblance to the natural forest ecosystem. In other words, the prudent planter attempts to mimic what the tree loves best.

The following steps attempt to recreate this ideal habitat:

  1. Mark out a planting area two to five times the diameter of the root ball.
  2. Using a shovel or rototiller, cultivate the soil to the depth of the tree’s root ball. If the site proves unsuitable for this action, dig a hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball. The bigger the hole, the better!
  3. Add and mix well a small (no more than 20% of total soil volume) amount of compost to the planting area.
  4. Dig a shallow hole in the center of the prepared area only as deep as the root ball.
  5. Place the root ball in the hole in such a manner as to ensure the root ball top is level with the surface of the surrounding soil. If the site has poor drainage or limited soil depth, then the root ball may be raised two or three inches above the surrounding soil.
  6. Cut all wires and rope securing the burlap around the root ball and pull the burlap or wire at least half way down the root ball, preferably all the way.
  7. For containerized trees, check to see if encircling roots are present. If so, gently separate and spread them into the planting hole. If they are too large to spread then cut them.
  8. Backfill with the original soil using water instead of feet to settle the soil. Do not put any soil on top of the root ball!
  9. Apply no more than eight ounces of a slow-release fertilizer (preferably organic) to the planting area.
  10. Apply three to four inches of wood chip mulch over the entire planting area. If possible, place one inch of compost between the mulch and soil. Do not put mulch within three inches of the tree trunk.
  11. Stake only if necessary. Support ties should be placed between 1/3 and 1/2 of the total tree height.
  12. Prune only dead, diseased, broken, or rubbing branches.

As written and compiled by Jenna Terrez (CPS) and Mark Peterson (SAWS)

Pruning Your Trees

According to the Trees for the San Antonio Region guide, pruning is not recommended until after your tree has overcome transplant process and has a self-supporting root system. We prune to remove dangerous hazards for the tree’s health, such as dead, diseased, or dying branches. This will also help prevent future hazards, such as narrow branch angles or rubbing branches. Follow these effective pruning tips:

  • Consult with a certified arborist before pruning.
  • Never prune any trees close to high voltage electric lines.
  • Follow the Ten Pruning Commandments:
    1. Always have a reason to prune—if in doubt, then don’t take it out.
    2. All pruning is done at a bud or branch regardless of whether you are shortening a branch, removing seeds, or reducing tree height.
    3. Prune to improve tree strength and safety. Reduce trunk and limb breakage by eliminating multiple trunks of equal size and narrow branch junctures that look like “V”s.
    4. Prune to improve tree health by removing the dead, diseased, and dying branches and any branch where light or wind cannot penetrate.
    5. Always maintain the upper two thirds of the tree in branches and foliage.
    6. Never remove more than 25% of the canopy during one pruning cycle.
    7. Never top a tree!
    8. Never leave a stub or remove the branch collar by a flush cut.
    9. Always paint tree wounds on oaks within 30 minutes. This is not necessary for any other tree species.
    10. Always disinfect pruning tools between trees to prevent the spread of disease.

Source: “Trees for the San Antonio Region” guide

Recommended Trees for San Antonio

Canopy Trees

Common Name Scientific Name Foliage Mature Height, Spread Comments
Anaqua Ehretia anacua Semi-evergreen Medium,35 feet + Prefers shade; moist soils; clusters of white flowers in spring and yellow-orange fruit in summer; attracts birds. Also known as Sandpaper Tree.
Black Cherry, Escarpment Prunus serotina var. eximia Deciduous Medium,35 feet + Fast growing native; dappled shade; moist, well drained soils; white flowers in spring; red to black fruit in summer; fall color. Great for wildlife.
Cypress, Arizona Cupressus arizonica Evergreen Medium,15 feet + Fast growing; full sun, well drained soils; conical form; blue-gray foliage color; tolerant of dry conditions.
Cypress, Montezuma Taxodium mucronatum Semi-evergreen Large,40 feet + Fast growing; conical form as young; feather foliage.
Elm, Cedar Ulmus crassifolia Deciduous Large,30 feet + Moderate growing; bright green new foliage in spring, yellow fall color; adaptable to a wide range of sites.
Maple, Uvalde Bigtooth Acer grandidentatum Deciduous Medium,30 feet + Moderate growing; fall color; requires well drained soils; protect from afternoon sun to reduce leaf scorch.
Mesquite Prosopis glandulosa Deciduous Medium,30 feet + Very drought resistant; filtered shade allows turf underneath; lacy spreading form; cream yellow flower matures into a long tan pod in late summer.
Oak, Bur Quercus macrocarpa Deciduous Large,45 feet + Prefers deep and well-drained soil; golf ball sized acorns may be of concern.
Oak, Chinkapin Quercus muehlenbergi Deciduous Medium,45 feet + Prefers well drained soils; round-topped, with lance-shape foliage and attractive light-colored bark; wildlife food source; highly palatable acorns.
Oak, Live Quercus viginiana var. fusiformis Semi-evergreen Large,45 feet + Can be moderate growing with appropriate care; spreading canopy. Caution: Must always paint wounds to prevent Oak Wilt disease.
Oak, Mexican White Live Quercus polymorpha Semi-evergreen Large,35 feet + Fast growing with appropriate care, moderate acorn producer. Few, if any, pest problems.
Oak, Texas Red Quercus buckleyi Deciduous Large,35 feet + Fast growing; “oak leaf” characteristic; fall color; good shade tree; requires minimal pruning.
Osage-Orange Maclura pomifera Deciduous Medium,35 feet + Moderate fast growing; adaptable to wide range of sites; small grapefruit size fruit (female trees). Also known as Bois d’Arc.
Pecan Carya illinoenis Deciduous Large,45 feet + State Tree; requires plenty of room and deep soil; prone to limb breakage and pest infestations.
Sycamore, Mexican Platanus mexicana Deciduous Large,45 feet + Fast growing; resistant to insects; attractive foliage and minimal pruning.

Understory Trees

Common Name Scientific Name Foliage Mature Height, Spread Comments
Anacacho Orchid Tree Bauhinia congesta Deciduous Small,10 feet Does best in full sun; fragrant white flower clusters in spring.
Anacahuita/Wild Olive Cordia boissieri Evergreen Small,10 feet Large white flowers most of summer; pale yellow fruit; cold sensitive but will re-sprout quickly. Also known as Mexican Olive.
Buckeye, Mexican Ungnadia speciosa Deciduous Small,10 feet Understory or full sun; pink spring flowers; yellow fall foliage.
Condalia, Bluewood Condalia hookeri Evergreen Small,10 feet Very drought tolerant; sun-shade; fruit well-liked by wildlife.
Crape/Crepe Myrtle Lagerstroemia indica Deciduous Small,5-20 feet Non-native well adapted to our region; choice of flower colors from white to purple; some varieties can grow to medium height range.
Desert Willow Chilopsis linearis Deciduous Small,15 feet Fast growing; very drought tolerant; large white , pink or purple trumpet-shaped flowers; attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and bumblebees.
Holly, Possumhaw Ilex decidua Deciduous Small,10 feet Sun or shade; loses foliage in winter to expose red berries (females only).
Holly, Yaupon Ilex vomitoria Evergreen Small,10 feet Sun or shade; red berries (females only); evergreen foliage; provides food & Shelter for birds.
Goldenball Leadtree Leucaena retusa Deciduous Small,12 feet Fast growing; feathery foliage; small golden yellow (fuzzy balls) blossoms in spring.
Oak, Lacey Quercus laceyi Deciduous Medium,30 feet Moderate growing, blue-gray foliage and usually yellow fall color. Rated as a “Texas SupterStar” by the Texas Cooperative Extension Service.
Persimmon, Texas Diospyrus mexicana Deciduous Small,12 feet Slow growing; edible fruit matures to a dark black in late summer and fall; great wildlife food source but can be a problem.
Plum, Mexican Prunus mexicana Deciduous Small,25 feet Prefers well-drained soils; dappled sunlight; showy white flowers in early spring; tart and edible fruit; good for wildlife.
Redbud, Mexican or Texas Cercis canadensis var. mexicana or texenis Deciduous Small,12 feet Pink-red blossoms in early spring; yellow fall foliage; glossy and wavy leaves; more drought tolerant than Eastern species. Note: Do not select Eastern Species.
Sophora, Eve’s Necklace Sophora affinis Deciduous Small,18 feet Deciduous cousin to Texas mountain-laurel; pink flower clusters (late spring) form chains of black beans (necklace appearance) in late summer and fall.
Sophora, Texas Mountain Laurel Sophora secundiflora Evergreen Small,18 feet Fragrant, purple clusters in early spring. Very drought tolerant. Caution: Fruit is poisonous when chewed.
Viburnum, Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum rufidulum Deciduous Small,18 feet Partial sun or shade; early spring bloomer with white flowers; red berries turn black in fall; good fall leaf color.

Source: “Trees for the San Antonio Region” guide

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