Show a Tree Some Love

By Claudette Brady | Email the author | May 29, 2011

You have planted your window boxes and containers, yet you still yearn to get outside and get your hands dirty in the soil.

Consider adopting a tree and creating a mini tree bed garden. Tree bed gardens add another layer of beauty to the streetscape and discourage dog owners from using tree beds as doggie bathrooms.  Dog excrement and urine are not good fertilizers for trees.

Your primary consideration when adopting a tree and starting a tree bed garden is access to water. Mature trees need 8-10 gallons of water per week during hot weather, and new trees need 15 – 20 gallons per week.

If you do not have access to an outdoor water supply, you can use 50 foot coiled water hose attached to a kitchen faucet to water the tree.  You may need an adapter to connect the hose to the faucet.  Trees should be watered slowly and deeply so that the water reaches the deepest roots and does not erode the soil.  Put the hose on a slow trickle and water for half an hour.

If you do not have a hose or do not want to leave a hose unattended, an old 5 gallon compound or cat food bucket (or larger container) can be used. Drill a ¼ inch hole quite near the bottom of the bucket and cover it with duct tape. Fill the bucket with water, place it near the tree, and remove the tape. Repeat until the desired amount of water is delivered.

Planting the Tree Bed Garden

When planting the tree bed, the first priority is the tree’s health. Don’t raise the level of soil in the tree bed by more than ½ inch. Don’t over cultivate the soil. Use hand tools when planting so as not to disturb the tree’s root systems.

Prepare the tree bed for planting by loosening the soil to a depth of no more than 2 inches and mixing in a thin layer of compost. Choose plants with shallow root systems that will not compete with the tree for water. Small plants: annual, perennial and bulbs are good choices. New Yorkers for Parks offers free daffodils to block associations and other organizations.

Also, choose plants based on their sun light requirements. The canopy of a tree on the sunny side of the street can limit the amount of sunlight reaching the tree bed creating a shady environment. Do not crowd the tree bed and avoid planting close to the tree trunk. After planting, add a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch making sure to keep mulch away from the tree trunk and the base of plants.

Maintain your tree bed as you would any other garden: Water regularly following the guideline previous mentioned; pinch back leggy plants and; remove dead flowers, leaves, garbage and animal waste.

Protect the tree and tree bed by installing a tree guard. You can order a tree guard from a metal works company, purchase fencing from a local garden center or make your own. A quick and easy tree guard can be made using wooden stakes, rope, chain or pipe (see page two of the BBG’s Street Tree Bed Care Guide for instructions).

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Million Tree both offer free classes  in tree stewardship as well as on-line guides on tree care and tree bed planting. You can also officially adopt a tree through Million Tree NYC.

Related Site(s):

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens Green Bridge