Buying and Planting Trees

Trees are generally the most expensive and long-lived plants a gardener will buy. Well-chosen, well-placed, and well-planted, they add structure and definition to the rest of the garden and provide decades of enjoyment. Poorly chosen, poorly placed or poorly planted, they can become a nuisance and source of frustration.

I hope the trees I bought today will provide me with decades of enjoyment. I hope they appreciate that I took a day off from work to go to the nursery, personally select them, and then bring them home to carefully plant them.

Follow along with me on my big 'tree holiday', my personal arbor day.

I went in the morning to a nursery clear on the other side of the city because I wanted to have a nice selection of trees to choose from. At the nursery, they wrapped burlap around the trees to protect them for the drive home, since my route home took me on the interstate.

They also gave me a 30% discount for waiving the one year guarantee. The trees looked pretty healthy to me, so I think my risk of them not living at least a year is pretty low. I always ask if they are offering discounts when I buy expensive shrubs or trees. Sometimes they say no, but sometimes they'll offer a discount, like today.

When I brought my new trees home, the sun was shining. By the time I finished lunch and changed into some 'tree planting clothes', the skies had turned threatening.
But I don't let threatening skies keep me from working in the garden. After all, it could be hours before it starts to rain.

The first task was to clear out the sod where I planned to plant the first tree.I was able to easily remove the sod by first scoring the ground with a 'half moon' edging shovel, and then hand digging out the sod with my hand digging hoe. I used the sod to fill in bare spots elsewhere in the lawn.

Then I planted my new tree.Would anyone like to guess what kind of tree I bought?

At the nursery I walked around and looked at nearly every tree they had. Hawthorns, serviceberries, crabapples, tree lilacs, sassafras, dogwoods, magnolias, maples, oaks. I checked them all out one by one.

And then even though I had decided I wasn't going to get one because my soil is alkaline and they prefer acidic soil, I bought a Carolina Silverbell, Halesia carolina 'Arnold Pink'.

What happened, you ask? Why did I change my mind? Well, I'll tell you... as I stood there in the nursery and looked at that Carolina Silverbell, I decided that life is too short not to at least try to grow a tree I've wanted for nearly 30 years, ever since I first learned about it when I took a course in Woody Ornamentals in college. I'll just have to amend the soil to try to provide the acidity the tree wants. That sounds easy enough, only time will tell if I am successful.

I placed my tree in the garden so that over time, it will block the open view of the neighbor's deck. Where it is planted it will also guide anyone who comes through the gate to turn left as they enter the back yard. I don't like 'straight shot' paths and views into the back yard, I want someone to look through the gate and wonder what else is back there.

What else is back there? Eventually there will be a big planting bed back there that includes the Carolina Silverbell as well as all the other trees that are planted on that side of the yard.

Though I did go to the nursery to buy just one tree, I also came home with a second tree.
It was a spur of the moment purchase. They had just gotten these ginkgo trees in and they looked as good as any I've seen. I did not let the fact that I didn't know exactly where I was going to plant it stop me from buying this second tree because I knew I'd find some place for it.

So after I planted the first tree, I walked around the yard with my new ginkgo to see where it might fit in. Finally I decided to plant it in the side yard, near where I had cleared out and renovated some foundation plantings earlier this fall.

This particular gingko is Ginkgo biloba 'Princeton Sentry', a male tree, and it will grow so slowly that it will be a long time before it shades the plants near the house or drops its golden yellow leaves into the gutters in the fall.

In a few years, I think I'll expand the bed around the ginkgo to follow the property line and provide for another garden area. In the meantime, it will just be there all alone, serving as a 'sentry' in my side yard.

Did I mention that it was overcast and threatening to rain the whole time I was planting my trees? By the time I finished planting the ginkgo, it had already started to rain.
And it has been raining off and on into the evening. This makes me very happy. I hope it pleases the new trees, too. Overcast skies, cool temps, and gentle rains. What better conditions could these trees have for starting out in a new garden?

(Tomorrow... hand made gifts for gardeners, that anyone can make.)


  1. Good luck with the silverbell. Sometimes plants surprise us and do well where they aren't supposed to. I hope this will be one of those times.

  2. Yea on the Silverbell, and even more yea on the of my favourite trees ever, even though mine is small, but it's growing and wonderful.

    Now you need a Metasequoia!

  3. Oooh... I don't blame you, I don't think I could have resisted that gingko, either. (Well, maybe I could have, but only because I have no room here for a "really tree-sized tree!")

    You're so right about these cool temps and rain. I was happy that Ma Nature decided to water my new plantings for me today, too. What a great start for trees and shrubs alike!

  4. Kathy... Thanks, I intend to keep amending the soil around it. I started by adding some Ironite when I planted it. Maybe I'll create a nice little microclimate of acidic soil and can get some azaleas, too!

    Jodi... I assure you that I do not need a Metasequoia. They had a couple of them there, they were maybe 3 feet tall. At least with the Ginkgo, all the leaves usually drop at one time. With the Metasequoia, I'd be cleaning up those little ferny-like leaves all winter long.

    Blackswamp_Girl... Yes, it was a good time to plant all around the midwest. Good luck with all your new shrubs!

    Thanks all for the comments and support.
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  5. I don't know Carolina silverbell, but the name sure is pretty. Ginkos are lovely. I hope they both grow beautifully for you.

  6. What a great post, Carol - we got to follow you around as you purchased and planted the trees, hear how your thoughts progressed as you made decisions, got to look through the gate and now just as you intended - we wonder what else is back there!

    And a ginkgo! Wonderful! The leaves are so beautiful!
    It looks like this tree can add some non-airflow restricing shade for the airconditioner, too.

    There are some liquid seaweed products that give a boost to plants that like acidic soil - I put some on my camellias once in awhile, along with coffee grounds - that may not change the acidity much, but they seem to like it .

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. I love the idea that you planted a tree that you've always wanted. It will do well and give you many years of pleasure.

    The leaves of a gingko are so attractive that I wouldn't have been able to resist either.

  8. What a lovely entry to read. I ADORE tree shopping. I just started my garden this summer on my new spread and bought 10 new trees of varying sizes. And like you, I've placed them to force people to turn another direction--my favorite is between the smoke tree and the bald cypress. They'll duke it out next summer.

  9. Pam/digging... Thanks, I hope the silverbell blooms this spring for me, at least a little.

    Annie... Thanks for the compliment and I shall investigate to find this seaweed product and also stop in at my local Starbucks to get some coffee grounds (since I don't drink cofee.) Or, I wonder what my co-workers would think if I brought in a bin for them to throw the coffee grounds in.

    Kate... Really, should gardeners go to nurseries without supervision? I went alone, so there was no one to tell me no when I saw that Ginkgo!

    Benjamin Vogt... I planted 8 trees my first year here, but since then, 10 years, this are my first major tree purchases. I'm looking forward to more shade! I'll have to check out your blog to read more about your garden and trees.

    Thanks all for the nice comments and kind words!
    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  10. My parents have a ginkgo tree and I just love it, especially ho the leaves all turn and color and then all fall off on practically the same day.

  11. I will think good thoughts about your silverbell...I think we should always try something if we really want it...and I think you'll do a good job making it happy because it's worth it to you!

  12. My goodness Carol you have been such a busy bee this weekend. You are quite right "life is too short" not to plant the tree you want. It will be a beauty no doubt with your care.

    I get to enjoy a gingko tree by looking across the street at the neighbors tree. It is beautiful year round. The leaves go from celadon in spring, darker green in summer and that gorgeous yellow during fall. Yummy

  13. Wonderful post on your tree selections, Carol. The Gingko is the oldest tree in recorded history and it's a real winner. If its a female it won't produce its stinky fruit until it's thirty years old. Inside the fruit is a seed that is considered a delicacy in Asia where the tree originated.

    Coffee grounds, liquid seaweed and Miracid may benefit the soil for about a month, but are not effective long term to make your Carolina Silverbell happy.

    Long term, Spring and Fall, purchase elemental sulfur from the garden center, remove any mulch you have around the tree, sprinkle three cups around the drip line and cover with a 3 inch layer of wood mulch ( I recommend the acidifying Black Forest Soil Conditioner or a finely shredded one ). It will take at least six months for this to break down and make the soil more acidic.

    With this method I'm able to keep Azaleas happy in the sandy, alkaline soil of the Lake Michigan shoreline.

  14. Planting trees are so exciting, because of the size, permanence and potential future landscape impact. It was fun to read your experience. I have a couple dozen young trees grown from seed, cuttings or bought as small saplings that are in large pots, waiting for the new house/yard next year. I actually had two years to grow them, and so saved myself a bundle! Geiger, mahogany, bottlebrush, orchid trees, maho, lignum vitae, bay rum, tamarind, tropical almond, mango, royal poinciana!

  15. Great tree choices. I never thought about a gingko tree - I'm looking into that for the side of my house. Not until next Fall though!


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