Grove planting provides trees with mutual protection
KEARNEY, Neb. – In natural woodlands, trees are spaced out in all different distances. Bob Henrickson assistant director of horticulture programs encouraged homeowners to plant trees 10, 15, 25 or 35 feet apart. Vary the distances between trees. In nature, he said, trees don’t come on 35-foot centers.
When trees are planted in groves, the branches learn to grow away from each other towards the light, Henrickson said.
“So you get this group of trees growing up together and along comes an arctic clipper from the north. The trees on the north side will be the soldiers that bear the brunt of the wind,” Henrickson said. “The ones in the center or on the south will be much better off.”
The same thing happens in the summer when the hot winds blow out of the south. The trees on the south side of the grove will be more stressed.
In nature, some trees are expendable, Henrickson said, but not necessarily in a landscape. If you have five trees planted in a group, though, you can take that one out and there are still four left.
Henrickson recommends oaks for western Nebraska-bur oak, chinkapin, swamp white and even the gambel oak. He cautioned landowners to avoid some maples, particularly the red maples, because they can’t sustain the hot winds as well as other trees. Native trees, such as American elm, American linden and black walnut are fantastic for West Central Nebraska.
Some great trees are considered “messy” and because of this are rarely planted, Henrickson said. Kentucky coffee trees can take wind, can take drought and also irrigated landscapes. Some people don’t like the pods, but Henrickson considers them winter interest.
“They give you something to look at in the winter,” he said.
Birch trees like the cool north sides of mountains, Henrickson said. They don’t cope well with western Nebraska’s windswept landscapes. They may do well to start, but will struggle or die during a hot windy summer. Then secondary problems like borers will kill the tree.
For sturdy trees that endure western Nebraska’s semi-arid climate and punishing winds, think about planting hardy native trees in groves so they can protect each other.