What to Know: Planting and Maintaining Trees
By Arlington Parks & Recreation
Posted on March 18, 2021, March 18, 2021

Planting a tree

The City of Arlington recently celebrated Arbor Day by providing over 1,200 free trees to the public! Didn’t get a tree this year? There are lots of nurseries that have suitable native and adapted trees, or you can follow Arlington Parks and Recreation on social media to learn about future events. To help you select your next tree please visit the Forestry and Beautification webpage where you can find useful information on how to plant, prune, and care for your trees, as well as a tool that can help you save money by planting the tree to provide the most summer cooling, and a list of trees species recommended for Arlington’s climate and soils.

Why does the City Provide Free Trees?

Arlington is certified as a Tree City USA and has received the Growth Award from the Arbor Day Foundation numerous times in the past years for its efforts to improve the urban forest. Why? Because we believe trees are valuable to the community and provide needed environmental benefits such as storm water runoff prevention and cooling shade. Did you know that nearly 60% of all plantable space in Arlington is on residential land? We need help from homeowners to maximize our tree canopy by planting trees in yards and open space around your home. Planting trees on residential sites also provides noise reduction and shade where it is most needed: our homes, the places we spend so much of our time.

Aren’t Trees Expensive?

Many residents have concerns about the cost of maintaining trees. Good, native trees appropriate to Arlington only require infrequent pruning (something that you can reduce by following our guide to pruning young trees) and removal once the tree dies. While these are not inexpensive, they are not an everyday expense. Consider a typical homeowner may spend up to $200/month maintaining their lawn, which provides a certain aesthetic beauty and an enjoyable play surface, but doesn’t provide benefits to the environment such as carbon storage, pollinator and other wildlife habitat, or the savings trees provide in the form of reduced cooling bills. That could mean thousands of dollars a year spent on maintaining turf! So while pruning and removal of trees may have high costs at one time, over a tree’s lifespan (often 60 years or more) homeowners may have spent $30,000-$60,000 maintaining their yard! All of the costs associated with owning trees are likely less than $10/month, while a single mature tree can save up to $20 a month or more during the summer on reduced electric bills. So compared to turfgrass, trees are a deal that can’t be beat!

2021 Winter Storm Tree Damage

Are you worried about your evergreen trees after the recent winter storm? Remember that trees are slower to respond to environmental changes than other living things, so give your trees time to recover before calling on a tree removal company. Most arborists in the state agree that it is too early to evaluate the long-term condition of trees with cold damage. You should wait until at least late April before determining any course of action. Want to help your trees? Typically, evergreens have only had their leaves die, the rest of the tree is still alive, but it will need to replace all of the leaves at once, something that rarely happens to these trees. That effort will require resources, namely water. So once leaves begin to reappear, get out the hose every few days and water just enough to keep soil moist. Don’t water until the soil is saturated as roots also need oxygen; too much water is often a cause of decline for species such as our native post oak. Do not fertilize trees as this may increase stress and shock the tree.

Frequently Asked Tree Questions:

Where should I plant my tree?

Generally speaking, the west side of the home receives the most afternoon sun so for maximum shade plant trees on that side of the house or where you have afternoon shade during the summer. Selecting the right place for your tree requires some thought on how you want the tree to look and function. Is the tree intended to provide shade, aesthetics, or screening? What space, available water, and soils do you have? What will the tree look like when mature and does that fit the location? Your tree selection and planting location should fit these conditions. See our list of recommended species to help find the right tree.

Where should I not plant my tree?

Avoid planting a tree within 5-10 feet of any power lines (overhead or below ground), utility lines (water, sewer, or gas), or easements. Typically any utility lines will run directly from the meter to the house for water, from the power pole or nearest transformer box to the meter for electricity, and within any easement on your property. We recommend calling 811 prior to digging. You should also avoid planting trees within 5 feet of structures including fences or sidewalks.

Do I need to stake my tree after planting?

Often times you should avoid staking a new tree, but it may be necessary in some cases. Staking a tree is like giving the tree a crutch, since the tree has extra support it won’t grow as strong. Having wind shake and bend the tree helps the tree to form reaction wood in the trunk and roots that will make it stronger in the future. If you have a tree with a larger canopy that can catch wind and it doesn’t seem stable in the ground you may need to stake the tree. If you do use stakes they should be tied loose enough to allow the tree to move with the wind but not topple. Tree stakes should be removed within 2 years or as soon as the tree is stable. Leaving rope tied around the trunk can kill the tree if left in place too long.

Will tree roots damage my foundation?

In the overwhelming majority of cases, no. Tree roots need water and oxygen to survive and have limited growth in compacted soils, therefore the space underneath large buildings simply isn’t suitable for tree roots. Additionally, while tree roots can sometimes lift concrete such as driveways or sidewalks; heavy, thick concrete will not be damaged by roots if they do occur. The only exception is in shrink swell clay soils where the changes in water content of the soils can cause damage. Typically this only occurs for existing tree roots under newly poured concrete, but a soaker hose around the structure to minimize moisture changes can prevent foundation damage.

Who is responsible for trees near power lines?

For Arlington, Oncor is responsible for safely maintaining primary electric lines and has the right by state law to prune trees around those lines. You should not perform any pruning within 10 feet of power lines and we recommend you contact Oncor to make the area ready for pruning. Oncor does not maintain secondary lines or other lines such as cable or phone. Homeowners are responsible for the electric line running from the pole to their house. Planting trees away from power lines helps ensure reliable electric service.

Can I plant trees in the right-of-way or does the city maintain this area?

In most cases, the homeowner is responsible for mowing and pruning or removing trees on the right-of-way (which is the area between your property line and the curb). So yes, you may plant trees within homeowner maintained public right-of-way. As the city has a right to disturb or utilize the right-of-way, including removing trees if needed, we strongly recommend trees be planted a minimum of 6 feet from the back of curb and at least 2 feet from sidewalks. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining safe clearance of their trees over sidewalks and roadways; planting trees farther from public infrastructure makes it much easier to maintain your trees safely.

How should I prune my trees?

One misconception is that trees do not need pruning, which stems from trees growing in a forest doing well without any kind of pruning. Unfortunately, urban trees grow with much more space than those in crowded forest conditions. This means they often do not grow as strong or straight without some type of pruning. Pruning should begin early on, within a few years after planting, to help remove low branches that will become an issue and to encourage the tree to grow taller and stronger. Each species will have its own growth form, but few shade tree species should have branches lower than 7-9 feet when fully mature. Since there are not enough surrounding trees for branches to “self-prune” you will need to remove those lower branches as the tree grows. Each year you can remove the lowest 2-4 branches from a tree and drive the canopy higher over time. Doing this simple pruning yourself over the first 5-10 years after the tree is planted will greatly reduce the need for pruning in the future and provide a stronger tree in the long run.

Some tips on pruning: try to remove non-permanent branches (those below 7-9 feet or growing towards structures) before they become larger than 3 inches in diameter. It is perfectly fine for branches to grow over (but not touching) your roof, driveway and parked vehicles, or secondary power line, just remember to keep an eye out for dead or broken branches that may fall in these locations. Keep branches that hang over the roof pruned 3-5 feet higher than the roof so that branches don’t rub and cause damage to shingles. Only prune as needed to correct issues, don’t prune trees every year just because you feel it is a good practice. Avoid pruning mature trees except to keep the canopy at least 7 feet high or to remove dead branches. Don’t over prune or try to “thin out” mature trees, small branches growing off the trunk are natural and needed for the tree.

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