“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.”
This was a quote my friend Martha posted on Facebook a few days ago. Since then, I’ve been noticing trees and have been thankful someone planted them.
This semester I’m a student teacher in a kindergarten class near Orland. I like to take the back roads. My route runs parallel to the river, then takes a jog through the orchards. Last Friday I passed a group of men, dressed in white and unloading boxes of bees. There was a light rain and I followed a rainbow almost all the way back to Chico — colors dipping down into the lines of bare branches.
Whenever I see a rainbow, I feel reassured that I am on the right path.
Trees are important — they provide a large percentage of our local economy. For “city folk,” trees provide a barrier between the roofs of our homes and the brutal summer sun.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who has had a love affair with a tree or two. I knew a sycamore at One Mile. The circle of shade became “my place,” where I studied during college. My tree was hit by lightning and the place has never seemed the same. My friend Samantha has a Deodora cedar, planted in the 1920s by her great-grandfather. I can see it from a distance and it serves as a landmark so that I can find her house. The tree grew so large she had to move her driveway in 2008.
Another friend, Sylvia, planted a tree in honor of her brother, who had died. I think she’s still angry at the people who bought the house and cut down the tree.
Trees don’t need to be huge and old to have sentimental value. Last spring I felt honored to be invited to Sherwood Montessori school, where a group of children planted a Fay Alberta peach tree, donated by the lovely Luisa Garza. The kids who threw handfuls of dirt into a hole that day may not yet know the significance of their effort. Decades from now they can pass by their old school in the Chapman neighborhood and see peach blossoms or fruit.
When is the time to plant a tree? Yes, the time is right now.
If you have any doubt, you can head to a nursery where you’ll see row-after-row of bare-root trees waiting for a new home. Bare-root trees are sold in small sacs filled with light soil or sawdust, which makes them easy to haul from the trunk of your car.
If you’ve notice the cycles of orchards in this area, new orchards are planted in the winter months. In the fall, the nuts are harvested. If the trees are ready to be replaced, growers yank them out and make big piles for mulch or firewood. Next, the ground is worked and mounds of earth appear, again in orderly rows. In winter, the new trees are planted. It’ll be several years after that before the trees are large enough for harvest, and many more before peak production.
Our backyard fruit trees are similar. Peaches, for example, produce fruit on one year old-branches, which means you won’t see a harvest until at least the second year. Even then, expect slim pickings. That’s why Martha’s quote about the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.
I’ll also add that it’s a bad idea to buy a fruit tree and keep it in a pot. I’ve had a citrus tree in a 25-gallon pot for at least three years. The first few years I thought it was a lemon tree. When I finally harvested five fruits this year, I realized it is a blood orange. I can only imagine how happy that tree would have been if it had room for its roots to roam.
If you’re inspired to plant a bare-root tree this winter, the National Arbor Foundation has some helpful how-to information: https://tinyurl.com/ybtvmbuh. The directions include soaking the roots 3-6 hours, and never allowing the roots to dry. Dig a very, very big hole to allow the roots to grow easily. Turn the soil as much as 3-feet in diameter. After watering, add about 2 inches of mulch but make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the trunk of the tree.
If you need help choosing a good fruit tree for this area, check out one of the well-established nurseries in town. Mendon’s in Paradise has a nice selection each year. Hodge’s Nursery along the Midway also holds winter workshops on pruning. Their Facebook page said to expect another session in February.