Shortly after noon on the last day of February, the thermometer on my porch read 62 degrees. It's no wonder I've been thinking of gardening. But I had trees on my mind, not vegetables or wildflowers.
Planting woody vegetation is the best, though not the fastest, way to improve habitat for wildlife. It's a great way to create habitat where little or none exists.
Nurseries and gardens centers are great sources for woody plants, but buying more than a few young trees can get expensive. Another source for native woody plants is the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's annual tree and shrub sale.
The Saratoga Tree Nursery provides low cost seedlings to landowners and schools for reforestation, coal mine reclamation, wildlife cover, and Christmas tree production at reasonable prices. Most species are offered in minimum quantities of 25.
Available species include, but are not limited to, various conifers, dogwoods, black cherry, oaks, wild apple, witch hazel, and sugar maple. The 2012 Tree and Shrub brochure can be found at www.dec.ny.gov and search ''2012 seedling sale,'' or call the Nursery at 518-581-1439.
To order, call the Saratoga Tree Nursery on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 518-587-1120. Mail orders can also be sent to NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation, Saratoga Tree Nursery, 2369 Rt. 50, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866. Seedlings will be shipped through mid-May.
When planting tree seedlings, it's important to remember that though seedlings are relatively fragile, they are easy to plant with the right tool. Digging a hole with an ordinary shovel is unnecessary if you have a planting bar, also called a dibble bar.
A dibble bar blade is three or four inches wide with a sturdy footstep and 10 to 12 inches long. The handle length can range from 36 to 40 inches. Using a dibble bar saves time when planting many seedlings.
Wherever you obtain seedlings, plant them as soon as possible and follow planting directions. Here's how to use the dibble bar.
1. Insert the blade at a 30-degree angle about two inches deeper than the length of the seedling's roots. Then push the bar to an upright position.
2. Remove the dibble bar and place the seedling in the hole. Hole should be deep enough so the roots do not fold over at the base of the hole. Be sure that there is no dry grass in the hole that could act as a wick and dry out the soil around the roots.
3. Insert the dibble about two inches from the seedling and pull the handle toward you. This firms the soil at the base of the roots and eliminates an air pocket at the bottom of the hole that can dry the roots and kill the seedling.
4. Now push the handle away from you to firm the soil at the top of the roots.
5. Repeat steps three and four on the other side of the seedling to firm the soil evenly.
6. Step on the soil around the seedling to eliminate air pockets.
To increase survival of bare root seedlings, here are a few more tips to keep in mind:
For best results, brush aside leaves and grass and plant seedlings on bare soil.
After receiving seedlings, plant them as soon as possible. If you can't get them planted immediately, keep the seedlings in a cool, protected area.
Keep roots moist prior to planting.
Plant under cool cloudy skies with little wind.
Do not over-water. Give freshly planted seedlings a deep soak, then let the soil dry out before watering again. This encourages roots to grown down in search of water. Frequent shallow watering produces trees dependent on irrigation and subject to blow down in high winds.
Do not expect 100 percent seedling survival.
Finally, seedlings take years to become trees, so remember this is a long-term project.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email via my website, scottshalaway.googlepages.com.