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Skaggs: Hug — or plant — a tree this Arbor Day

POSTED: February 20, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Today, plant a tree.

Georgia celebrates Arbor Day today, and there are many tree-planting ceremonies and other events going on all day. The day is a chance to celebrate trees and their many benefits, just as Georgia hits the perfect time of the year for tree planting.

But along with some much-needed summertime shade, trees also help prevent erosion, help create wildlife habitats and can even raise the value of your home.

It's easy to take trees for granted here in North Georgia, with acres and acres of forests atop our rolling mountains. But if you live in a city or subdivision, the picture isn't always the same. In fact, many of the areas where we live are often lacking trees.

So, take a look around your yard to find a suitable spot for a tree. Or, if you're in an apartment, get a seedling from your local home and garden store and plant it in a pot on your balcony. Either way, you're enhancing your own little bit of space in this state, and benefitting everyone in the long run.

Don't know where to start when getting a tree? Here are a few to consider:

Dura-Heat river birch is a fast-growing deciduous tree with a dense, fibrous root system. It typically grows to 30 to 40 feet tall and up to 25 feet wide. Dura-Heat river birch holds up better to heat stress than other birch cultivars, and does not defoliate as much in the summer months like the Heritage river birch, giving it a fuller, more dense appearance. Lustrous, dark-green leaves turn butter-yellow in fall, and the creamy-white exfoliating bark on the branches adds to winter interest.

American hornbeam (Carpinus carolinana) is a broad, oval deciduous tree growing to 40 feet tall and about 30 feet wide. Hornbeam is adaptable to a range of soils and growing conditions and is tolerant of both sun and shade. The fall color has shades of yellow, orange and red. American hornbeam is an excellent alternative to the Bradford pear, which tends to break and split apart due to poor branch structure.

Glowing embers Japanese maple is a medium-sized deciduous tree growing to 30 to 40 feet high and wide. Glowing embers is an award-winning selection from Michael Dirr's plant evaluation program at the University of Georgia. The finely toothed foliage and dense canopy provide nice shade. Glowing embers was selected for its vigorous growth, brilliant fall color and landscape adaptability. Fall colors can include purple, orange and yellow.

Overcup oak typically grows 50 feet high and wide, but it has been known to reach 125 feet in the wild. While most oaks have a reputation for being slow growers, Overcup oak grows fast, particularly when young. Its initial growth is somewhat pyramidal, then it gradually becomes more rounded. It's a tough, tolerant tree that is perfect for less-than-perfect sites, such as public parks. It thrives in heavy clay soil and loves the heat and humidity of the South.

Japanese zelkova is a deciduous tree growing to 50-60 feet tall and 40 feet wide. It develops a short trunk with ascending branches and a round head - very graceful. Japanese zelkova has deep green foliage, turning yellow to reddish-brown in the fall, and is tolerant of sun or partial shade and also of poor soils. Zelkova is an excellent shade tree and works well as a landscape specimen.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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