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TREES // A TRIBUTE FLORIDA'S ARBOR DAY JAN. 19, 1996

Once I interviewed an arborist who swore to me, completely straight-faced, that trees are intelligent beings. You can feel their wisdom when you stand under them, he said.

Another time, I interviewed an author who said his next novel would be about a tree _ an old tree that had been alive, say, 100 years. Just think what that tree would have witnessed in its time, he said.

Trees fascinate many of us.

Consider a life form that stands anchored to one place throughout its life cycle. Silent, enduring. Season after season, year after year. There's a certain nobility there that we can't help but admire.

Today's Garden page is devoted to trees, in honor of Florida Arbor Day, the third Friday of January. The rest of the country observes Arbor Day in the spring, but in Florida we celebrate trees much earlier. January is a good time to plant a tree here _ or just to ruminate on the many ways they enhance our landscapes and our lives.

JEANNE MALMGREN, Times Garden Editor

Five reasons to plant a tree

1. Trees add color, texture, height and interesting shape to your yard. Have an ugly view you want to screen out? A tree can camouflage it.

2. Trees help combat noise and air pollution. One tree can remove up to 26 pounds of the carbon dioxide from the air every year, while trapping dust and dirt particles and returning oxygen.

3. Trees can help reduce your summer power bills, through shading and evaporation from leaves. On a hot day, one large tree may transpire several hundred gallons of water, equal to the cooling value of several room air conditioners.

4. Trees provide wildlife shelter, attracting birds and small mammals to your yard.

5. Trees can improve your property value, increasing the appraisal on your home from 5 to 20 percent.

Tree-planting tips

Dig a hole twice as wide as the container your tree is in, and a little deeper.

Mix the soil you dug out of the hole with an organic amendment, such as peat or compost. The ratio should be two-thirds soil, one-third organics.

Backfill the bottom of the hole with amended soil.

Remove any non-degradable material used to wrap the root ball, such as nylon strapping or wire mesh. Then set the tree in the hole so that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. If it's too low, remove the tree and add more soil to the hole.

Fill in around the tree's root ball with amended soil. Stop every few shovelfuls add water with a hose and tamp down the soil to push out any air pockets. (This is the part where you'll get muddy!)

Once you've filled the hole and done a final soil-tamping, lay mulch in a 3-foot circle around the tree. The mulch layer should be about 3 inches thick. You can use pine needles, shredded leaves, bark chips or any organic material. Make sure the mulch doesn't touch the tree trunk; rake it out about an inch.

Form any remaining soil into a berm around the tree, just outside the mulch circle. That will form a basin that helps the tree retain water.

If the tree is young or slender, it will need support. Drive two wooden stakes into the ground just outside the berm and run two lengths of strong wire through pieces of rubber hose. The wire is attached to the stakes and then wrapped around the tree trunk at a level about two-thirds the height of the tree. The hose sections protect the trunk from being damaged by the wire. If you prefer, use degradable fiber rope instead of wire.

Keep the tree well watered the first six weeks after planting.

Fertilize about one month after planting.

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