September 2012 Issue
As Ohioans look for trees to plant this fall, a leading nurseryman recommends the native species that define regions of the state.
Returning from a summer getaway, Ohio’s landscapes provide a familiar welcome. A majestic bur oak stands welcoming in the middle of a cornfield. Sycamores say “Ohio” as their white-barked branches frame a creek. And yellow-tinted maples hint at the state’s approaching fall foliage show. As fall tree-planting time arrives, those images inspire Ohio gardeners to consider adding native trees to their back yards.
According to nurseryman Ed Kapraly of Riverside Native Trees in Delaware, Ohio’s trees do much more than add beauty to the landscape. They provide shade, produce oxygen, reduce wind and soil erosion, increase property value, buffer noises, create privacy, help conserve water and provide habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.
Also, as Lady Bird Johnson once said, native plants specifically “give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours.” Think of California’s giant redwoods, Florida’s palm trees and, of course, Ohio’s buckeyes.
Over the past 200 years, Ohio’s tree populations have evolved in number and diversity, says Drew Todd, the state’s urban forestry coordinator. Before Ohio was settled, it was virtually all forested. But by the early 1900s, many of those forests were cut down for settlements and farms, leaving the state with only 10 percent forest cover.
In 1916, the state created an agency to begin efforts to restore forests. Now known as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry, the agency purchased land, established state-run nurseries to grow native seedlings for landowners and farm foresters, and worked with private landowners to manage land resources. These efforts boosted the state’s forested canopy cover to 33 percent, which Todd says will likely remain steady for years to come.
Today, Kapraly delights in encouraging additional tree planting throughout the state. As a 25-year science teacher at Buckeye Valley Schools in Delaware, he started his tree nursery as a second income and future retirement revenue. To learn the business, he attended a nursery trade show in 2003 and met Ohio State University horticulture professor Dan Struve. Struve encouraged him to experiment with growing native trees in three-gallon containers to overcome the typical challenges associated with transplanting natives. Struve says he welcomed a nursery dedicated to natives, since there was a void left when the state nursery system was dismantled. Kapraly took Struve’s generous advice and experimented with container growing for a couple of years before investing in a greenhouse and opening his tree nursery across the street from his home in Delaware in 2005.
Kapraly currently grows 9,000 trees outdoors and an additional 15,000 to 20,000 in his greenhouse and sells them to individuals as well as metro parks, state parks and national parks. He jokes that he is too cheap to buy seeds, so he rakes buckets and buckets of acorns to plant each fall. In truth, his customers prefer trees with “local genetics” — grown from seeds of local trees that are well adapted to Ohio’s growing conditions.
Kapraly says many new homeowners avoid natives, because they’re perceived to be slow growers. He recalls that one surprised customer contacted him several years ago and asked if it’s normal for a bur oak to grow 30 inches in one summer. She called again later in September to report the tree had grown 62 inches in its first year. With fertilizer, Kapraly says he boosts these numbers even further. In fact, in his own back yard, he “pounds” his trees liberally with buckets of liquid fertilizer.
Another myth: It’s better to plant larger trees. On the contrary, Kapraly says the industry rule of thumb is a $20 tree with a one-inch diameter and a $300 tree with a three-inch diameter will be close or equal in size within five years.
“I’d rather buy 15 $20 trees than one $300 tree,” says Kapraly. He further explains larger trees’ roots take longer to establish, so they aren’t as quick to begin growth as smaller ones.
To Kapraly, the subtleties of native trees are what he finds so appealing. He turns over a swamp oak leaf and runs his hand along its velvety underside. He points to a sweet gum tree and shares the story of his daughter collecting large caterpillars from this tree to rear and watch emerge as beautiful Luna moths. He admires the red color of the chinquapin oak’s new branches.
“So many people are partial to flowering trees,” says Kapraly. “Flowers are nice but there’s a lot more to trees than flowers.”
So as homeowners consider trees to plant this fall, Kapraly encourages them to take a closer look at the native species that define the regions of Ohio.
He says the key to success is to select the correct tree for the correct site. On Riverside Native Trees’ website (riversidenativetrees.com
), Kapraly created an interactive map of the state’s 88 counties and lists 50 tried-and-true trees and shrubs native to each county. He includes descriptions of each and their growing conditions.
“I wanted to give people a big list of possibilities and help encourage a greater diversity in their landscapes,” he says.
For images of the trees and additional growing information, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources offers an Ohio Trees Index at ohiodnr.com/tabid/5361/Default.aspx
Once a tree has been selected, Kapraly offers these tips for planting:
in the fall when the trees are dormant and the branches are bare of leaves. In early spring, they will set roots and grow new leaves.
a tree’s growing needs. Does it require a sunny open area or a wetter low-lying one?
the right location and allow generous spacing, based on the tree’s expected mature size.
a hole no deeper than the container and two to three times as wide as the container. If the soil is in poor condition, amend the soil with peat.
the plant from the container and set it in the hole. Fill the hole half full with soil, then water it well to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets. Let the water drain, then fill the remainder of hole with soil. Water thoroughly.
around the perimeter of the tree (don’t mound the mulch). Remember to water the tree as needed during the first year.
Ed Kapraly of Riverside Native Trees nursery recommends
these Ohio native trees and shrubs.
(Platanus occidentalis) This immense tree with its signature white bark prefers wetter conditions. Kapraly says the tree gets a wilting disease (anthracnose) in spring, but new growth quickly replaces the damaged branch tips. A “super-fast grower.” (80 feet)
(Nyssa sylvatica) Also known as Tupelo, Sour Gum and Pepperidge, this tree is known for its glossy dark green summer foliage and its multi-colored fall leaves with many shades of yellow, orange, bright red and purple on a single branch. (60 feet)
(Quercus macrocarpa) A fast-growing tree with multi-season interest from bronze-colored leaves in spring to large fiddle-shaped leaves in summer to deeply furrowed bark in the winter. In fall, the tree produces fringed acorns. (90 feet)
(Quercus muehlenbergii) Lesser known of the oaks, the Chinquapin is one of the prettiest. Its atypical oak leaves have no lobes but serrated edges and early bronze-purple coloring. Its young red branches and small black acorns add further interest. (60 feet)
(Cornus racemosa) With two-inch, creamy white flowers and white-blush fruit, this native shrub attracts many birds. Reddish-brown stems turn a distinct gray with age. Highly adaptable. (10 feet)
(Gymnocladus dioicus) The female trees have a wisteria-like flower. Its thick pods contain seeds (or beans) that were once used by pioneers as a coffee substitute. Features fern-like leaves and favors alkaline soil. (80 feet)
Northern Red Oak
(Quercus rubra) This popular oak is favored for its glossy green leaves in the summer and brick-red color in fall. Grows rapidly and produces large acorns in August. (60 feet)
(Cornus amomum) A good-sized shrub that grows in wetter conditions and features porcelain-blue berries that birds love. Its twigs cast a reddish-purple hue in the winter landscape. (12 feet)
(Rhus typhina) These shrubs clump nicely for a natural hedge with scarlet fall color. Its hairy branched stems resemble deer antlers, and its upright cone-shaped fruit clusters are striking. Prefers acidic soil. (15 feet)
Swamp White Oak
(Quercus bicolor) As its common name implies, swamp oak is often found in bottomlands and along rivers, but this vigorous grower also tolerates drought conditions. Its leaves are glossy green on the upper surfaces and silvery-white on the undersides. They turn a burnished coppery red in the fall. (60 feet)