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Black Walnut trees: planting and caring

In my last column I talked about the Black Walnut tree and the value of its wood to manufacturers of high quality furniture, paneling, flooring, architectural features, and so on. I suggested that you might want to consider planting some Black Walnut trees on your property as they could sell for $5,000 to $7,500 each when they are harvested in 30 to 35 years. Meanwhile, you can literally watch your investment grow and enjoy the beauty of some very valuable trees.

In this column, I'll give you some ideas for planting and caring for your Black Walnuts.

As you might guess, the soil is a major factor in growing a healthy tree. Black Walnut trees will do best when planted in a site that consists of loose, well-drained, loamy soil to a depth of two to three feet with a fairly good proportion of the organic matter known as humus. The roots of your young trees will be able to absorb moisture and nutrients and grow faster in loose, well-drained soil.

But you can have too much of a good thing – including water, so avoid planting Black Walnut trees in a site that is subject to standing water. And good "percolation" works for trees as well as coffee. In this case, good percolation means that water drains through the soil neither too fast nor too slowly, so avoid "sandy" soil on the one hand and heavy clay-like soil on the other. There are solutions to be found for less-than-perfect soil, so feel free to get in touch with me (see the contact information below) and I might have some suggestions, as well as resources for soil testing labs, etc.

Weeds can rob your new young trees of both water and nutrients, so before planting I suggest you plow the weeds under, even if it takes a couple of passes. This way you'll use a lesser amount of herbicide (which could damage the trees if comes into contact with the leaves) and you'll have loosened and aerated the soil rather nicely.

You need to plant your trees (especially dormant trees) as soon as you can after receiving them. Meanwhile, keep the roots moist but not soaking wet, and don't plant them in ground that's still frozen or just recently thawed. I recommend that you drop a time-release fertilizer pack into the hole alongside the roots as a form of "fertilizer insurance." Water the trees immediately after planting, and give them about a half gallon of water a week in the first year, increasing the water to one or two gallons a week in times of heavy drought. You should apply mulch soon after planting to suppress weeds and preserve water in the soil. Here's a tip: Touch the soil under the mulch. If it feels moist you probably don't need to water.

There's more information about growing and caring for Black Walnut trees available at our website and I encourage you to visit the site and to contact me if you have specific questions. I'll do my best to help you with your "beautiful investment".

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] or mail to: Steve Jones, "The Plant Man", P.O. Box 686, McMinnville, TN 37111. For resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.

QUESTION: "There is this bubbling looking slim coming from my sweet gum trees in my front yard. Can you provide me with any info on this? I've been told it's called "Slime Flux" but I don't know how it got to my trees and what to do to clear it up." - Diane.

ANSWER: Most Sweetgum trees exude some type of gum looking stuff from the tree. In fact some nurseries sell gumless sweetgums. However if you think you may have a problem that is affecting the health of the tree you may want to check with your local agriculture agent.

QUESTION: "We're looking to plant some shrubs that are colorful but they have to be easy to care for. Any suggestions?"

ANSWER: Forsythias would seem to be the ideal solution. Forsythias are upright shrubs that present a display of gold-colored blooms all along their stems starting in early spring. I think that the bright yellow blooms look particularly attractive against the contrasting color of a red brick wall, but be sure to plant at least five feet from your house. They need around six hours of sun each day to produce really spectacular blooms. As for easy care, Forsythias are quite disease-resistant, they don't really need pruning and only need an occasional watering during extremely dry spells in the summer. Forsythias can create a very attractive hedge, too.