Every fall, a garden timer in my head goes off, reminding me that it’s time to plant more trees. I don’t have a lot of room left in my yard to plant small or large growing trees, but I do feel I can spread the word about the importance of trees.
Cool temperatures and impending winter dormancy make autumn the ideal time to plant trees and get them properly established. During dormancy, plants push energy down into their root systems, which helps to establish them without the stresses of heat and drought. As long as they’re properly planted, mulched and adequately watered, trees planted in late fall have a great head start for the following spring.
One of the most important and responsible things to consider when choosing and planting a tree is its mature size. For those of us who live within city limits and developments, it’s even more important that we do our homework before choosing where to plant a particular tree. Overhead and underground utilities, streets, sidewalks, neighbors and property lines are all things to consider when picking a particular type of tree.
A tree planted in the wrong place can quickly become a problem or an eyesore. But it’s not just gardeners and homeowners who need to adhere to responsible tree planting — it’s also the cities and neighborhoods in which we live.
The Town of Lewisville has just finished the last of phase of a multiyear street tree-replacement project on Shallowford Road. Faced with the probability of unsightly tree topping from utility contractors, Lewisville proactively sought a solution to a (literally) growing problem.
Shallowford Road is Lewisville’s main thoroughfare, and until a few years ago had been largely lined with sweetgum trees. The sweetgums and other shrubs had become so large they were growing into the overhead power lines. So the Town decided to remove them and replace them with smaller growing trees — ensuring that this predominant section of Lewisville be sustainably planted for the future.
Lewisville Town Manager Hank Perkins said that the Shallowford Road street tree-replacement project spanned from 2012 to 2019 and was broken up into four phases. Each phase dealt with a specific stretch of Shallowford Road. There was also a good collaboration between the Town of Lewisville, the Lewisville Beautification Committee and others.
“We worked with the LBC (Lewisville Beautification Committee) and we also worked with Duke Energy to make sure they were okay with the types of varieties,” Perkins said. “We also had to work with the North Carolina Department of Transportation because we had to get encroachment agreements for both the removal of the trees and the installation of the new trees.”
The Lewisville Beautification Committee offered suggestions and insight into which types of trees and shrubs might be the best for replacing the sweetgums. Past and present committee members consulted with the local cooperative extension office to make recommendations for plant material.
“Toby Bost (a retired Forsyth County extension agent) gave a lot of time to help us, made some written recommendations about which direction to go in,” said LBC member Susan Linker. “He was a big help. Yvonne Hall served as chair of the LBC until 2019 and was instrumental in moving the project forward.”
The replacement plants include a combination of both trees and shrubs. Depending on which planting phase of Shallowford Road they were designated for, the trees vary a bit in size. One defining characteristic that Lewisville hoped to achieve was a nonhomogeneous mixture of low- to mid-growing ornamentals.
“I think they’re without exception all flowering,” Linker said. “They max out at about 25 feet at the most, and some of them are smaller than that. We tried to alternate bloom color and bloom times.”
The Town of Lewisville worked with local landscape company EcoLogic to install and maintain the new trees. Owner and operator Jon Hanna knows his trees, and understands the importance of proper planting methods and timing. Most all of the tree installation for the Shallowford Road project was done late fall to early winter — which has proven great for the survival rate of almost all the plants.
Hanna offered some good advice for sensible tree planting — which takes into consideration spread as well as height.
“Approximate the height of the line and then consider the potential mature height of the tree,” Hanna said. “If the two can’t coexist, choose a different species. Also, consider a tree’s eventual spread. Even if it is not planted directly under the line, it could still create a conflict with spreading branches.
“Obviously, we want to avoid conflicts down the road where a tree has grown into a line and has to be removed or mutilated and left ugly, unhealthy or off balance. Also, mitigating conflicting vegetation is very expensive for service providers and therefore rate payers.”
Perkins and Hanna also pointed out that single trunk trees can serve certain areas better, in terms of spread. A Rising Sun redbud now harnesses the planting island at a Shallowford Road gas station.
“Originally we had a multi-stem tree at the BP station,” Perkins said. “We changed that out with Hanna’s recommendation to go with single stem to reduce the impact for visibility pulling out of the parking lot.”
Inversely, large shrubs that are typically multi-stem can be pruned to a tree form. Hanna suggests plants such as vitex, Rose of Sharon, tea olives and wax myrtles.
Some of the tree selections that the Town of Lewisville chose, include redbud, Japanese styrax, saucer magnolia, Chinese fringe trees, lilac, semi-dwarf crape myrtles, and Bloodgood Japanese maples. Shrubs were utilized in certain areas, including weigela and abelia.
With the completion of the Shallowford Road street tree project under its belt, the Town of Lewisville has set the stage for many years of visual charm along this busy stretch of highway. The diversity of trees and plant material is carefully planned and well executed.
So as we are right in the midst of perfect tree planting weather, I encourage you to take a drive or a stroll along Shallowford Road and get a few ideas about how to best plant for the future of your landscape.