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TONY MELTON: Trees can be a living memorial

May 26, 2019

I am alive because of an ink pen in my father’s shirt pocket.

My father was fighting in Italy during World War II. This well-placed ink pen deflected the round that was heading toward my father’s heart.

This Memorial Day, let’s do something special to remember the fallen heroes less fortunate than my dad. Instead of just grilling out, I suggest we plant a tree, or better yet a forest of trees.

I just returned from a trip to Italy, and I hate to say it, but over there, they butcher their trees by topping them. Let’s treat our trees better by planting, mulching and maintaining them properly.

I have heard many farmers say, “I may be too old to reap the benefits of my tree planting, but my grandkids will.” Planting trees can have a tremendous effect on the life and the future of a child. Many educations have been paid by tree plantings. I helped my parents plant some pine trees on our land in McBee, and the pine straw sold has helped our family tremendously.

Also, I helped them plant some trees in the front yard of our old home place. Both of my parents and the house are gone now, but every time I return, the first things I look at are those trees in the forest and around the old home place. I feel as if we are still connected through those trees.

To have a lasting memory, first plant the right trees for the purpose served. For instance, longleaf pines are best for producing pine straw. In ornamental settings, plant a long-living tree that has few insect and disease problems. Many times, if the tree is fast growing, it is short lived. There are many choices from dogwoods to Zelkovas, but in my opinion, it is hard to beat the oaks. However, not even all oaks are equal. For instance, Laurel or Darlington oaks are poor imitators of the stately old live oak.

Next, plant your trees in the right place. In ornamental situations, look up, look down and look all around. Will anything obstruct the growth of your tree? Look for power lines, pipe lines, buildings, etc. Know and visualize the mature size of your tree. In forests, know that the land will be tied up for many years and will be very costly to change to any type of row crop.

Next, plant your tree properly. In ornamental situations, dig a hole two to three times larger than the root ball of your tree but no deeper. This will loosen the soil for the roots to grow. Plant the tree the same depth or shallower than it was in the nursery, never deeper. Never put soil on top of the root ball. Roots need air to breathe. You can always give it more water. Also, never put fertilizer in the planting hole. You might burn those newly forming roots. In forests, if possible, wait on a rain, then plant in softer soils, but never mud-them-in, and if dry, add water to the planting hole.

Finally, proper maintenance will keep your trees growing and healthy. In ornamental situations, add a 3- to 4-inch layer of a light mulch at least to the ends of the branches, but never place mulch within a 2-inch ring around the trunk. When it doesn’t rain during the first summer, water your tree every other day at the rate of 2.5 gallons of water per inch diameter of the trunk. I recommend using something to measure the amount of water you are adding, because over-watering is even more deadly to your tree than under-watering. A five-gallon bucket, with a hole in its side to allow the water to slowly drip out, placed on the root ball is adequate. In forests, pray for rain and use a release-spray to control weeds and allow the trees to get a foothold to grow.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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