Planting trees and watching them grow, thrive, and mature is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. There is no better gauge of the profound movement of our lives through time. Trees are used as markers of significant signposts in life: births, marriages, deaths. My father-in-law planted a flowering crab apple to mark the birth of each of his granddaughters. In a small town in Saskatchewan, those lovely pink flowering trees are still there, each planted for a baby girl who is now a woman—Charlotte, Jenny, Emma, and Sara.

This first part will deal with tree selection. The most important decision to be made is what species of tree? Many ideas can affect our decision process and that is good, but unless we have accurate information about the tree’s mature size, it is easy to make a big mistake. Check several references. Perhaps the best approach is to go and see the tree in an older neighbourhood.

Know that the choice you make, if it is uninformed, will cause trouble for you, your neighbours, and the tree itself. Many a large tree has been brutally pruned because it radically outgrew the space it was planted in. This does none of us any good. Firstly, these brutal images need to be removed from our world and from the public’s frame of reference so that they are not considered default practices. Secondly, they are ugly—an insult to the tree’s dignity.

Choose a species that works in the space available and everyone is happy—neighbours, homeowner, and tree. Where you plant a tree will have a profound impact on that space in the future. Planting too close to your neighbours may start a long-term conflict. Most of us are more territorial than we think; few of us are happy with the neighbour’s trees growing into our property. And yet, we all unthinkingly plant near the margins of our property to create the largest space within our own yards. Seriously take some time and use stakes to mark possible planting sites. Then hit the books again and re-evaluate.

Shade is a major concern for you and your neighbours. There are plenty of old fashioned farm-style spruce shelter belts in the city that produce a full shade year-round for the neighbours. With that light level, they can never be gardeners.

The change of seasons and the ebbing of light around the end of the year have a powerful effect on people. Try to arrange your trees so that you get some winter light. By the time of the winter equinox, we have less than eight hours from sunrise to sunset.

Planting for privacy is natural. We all need and deserve some. A green screen between decks is a good thing. Consider shrub material as a more manageable alternative to trees. Large shrubs are sometimes all that small urban lots require.

A trip to a nursery or garden centre can be a daunting experience. So many choices, so many trees. Here is the tree I want, but there are 23 of them. Which one? Before you get to the retail stage, I hope you have done your homework. Site and species and hardiness rating are very important. The tree you choose should be as healthy as possible. Look for rich, vigorous foliage. Check the shoot extensions for last year’s growth.

Now look at the trunk. If it is wrapped with paper or something else, remove this so you can see all of the bark. Do not buy a tree that has wounds in the bark. These wounds cause problems.

Look closely at the trunk and branches. How the branches are formed and attached to the trunk is very important. Check the angles between the trunk and branch. What we want are wider U-shaped junctions between trunk and branch rather than narrower, tight V-shaped junctions.

If you have found a vigorous tree with a good history of shoot extensions and without any included bark, you should buy that tree!

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