How to Plant a Tree

By Carl Gold

I am kneeling in the soil using my hands to fill a hole.  I am dirty and my back is stiff. My fingernails are cracked and my hands are callused and rough to the touch. I have not looked at my watch or cell phone for hours. I have spent the morning planting native trees. Planting a tree is like planting oxygen. Replanting trees in urban areas that have been denuded can heal heat islands, clean the air, filter water, reduce asthma, provide habitat and raise property values. Trees shade homes in the summer and serve as windbreaks in the winter. Trees absorb carbon and ultraviolet radiation. They are first line defenders against climate change.

Early spring and early fall are the best times to plant a tree. When a tree is planted it goes into shock- hot summer weather and drought add to this stress and can kill the tree before it has a chance to adapt. Similarly, freezing temperatures prevent root growth and a winter planted tree will struggle. If possible, plant a tree native to our region. Native trees bloom and leaf out timed to match the hatching of certain insects that rely on them for food. If those insects are not around migrating birds that feed on the insects will go elsewhere. A single mature oak tree can host over 500 species of nascent moths and butterflies – more than any other plant or tree. This is a wildlife smorgasbord. An oak may take 40-60 years to mature – but can live for centuries.

The planting hole should be 2-3 times as wide as the root ball. Start by removing any grass. Save it and set it aside. Make the sides of your circular hole perpendicular to the bottom- avoid slanted sides. The bottom of the hole should be flat so that water will not pool under the tree and tilt it. If your soil is severely compacted from development or construction, consider amending it with compost or better soil and increasing the width of the hole to give roots room to grow. Low-cost compost is available from Baltimore City’s Camp Small.

 Cut away any wire and burlap or remove your new tree from the plastic pot. Now you must act ruthlessly and counterintuitively.  If your tree grew in a plastic pot, it is highly likely that the roots are encircling the tree and if not addressed will ultimately girdle and kill the tree. Use a knife or your fingers to release the circling roots- it is ok to cut them to do this. If any of the roots have woody portions that are growing back towards the trunk- cut them off! They will never change direction so they must be removed to protect the tree from itself. Next, find the tree flare or first structural root- this is where the trunk widens at the base of the tree. It is likely to be covered with soil that you will have to remove. Planting depth is crucial. The tree flare must be visible just above the surface once you fill in the hole- it is better to be an inch too high than an inch too low- the tree will settle as you water it.  The easiest way to make sure the depth is correct is to lay your shovel across the hole as you are back filling from the soil you set aside.  The root flare should be level with the bottom of the shovel handle or slightly higher.   If you are working solo, stop and check that the tree is centered and straight. Take the grass you removed, flip it over and create a berm around the tree. Cover with mulch making sure to leave the flare exposed. Think doughnut, not volcano.

From March to October, water your new tree at least weekly the equivalent of one to two inches of rainfall for the first two years. You might want to stake it to protect against lawnmowers and weedwhackers. If deer are a problem, you can wrap inexpensive fencing around the stakes to protect the tree. Depending on how bad the deer problem is you may need to keep the fencing for several years. 

You have now given all of us a gift that will surpass anything you could do in your will.

Carl Gold is a Maryland Master Naturalist and a certified weed warrior and tree keeper. He can be reached at cgold@carlgoldlaw.com.

Opinion: Red Maple Place is Not the Solution to Baltimore County’s Dire Need for Affordable Housing

March 24, 2022

By Nancy R. Goldring, Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann, Beth Miller, Peta N. Richkus and Will Schwarz

Goldring is the president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association. Kleinmann is with the Greater Baltimore Group of the Maryland Sierra Club. Miller is with the Green Towson Alliance. Richkus is with Indivisible Towson. Schwarz is president of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.

Many of the facts behind Adria Crutchfield and Tom Coale’s commentary, “Baltimore County Needs Red Maple Place,” Maryland Matters, March 14], are indisputable: Baltimore County’s long and shameful history of explicit and institutional racism; a critical need for affordable housing in locations with easy access to public transportation and services; the county’s failure to make any real progress on its 2016 Voluntary Conciliation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and that its overall profile makes it logical that Towson census tracts are among those listed as good candidates for affordable housing units.

Unfortunately, the conclusion that opposition to Red Maple Place is “misguided, racist hostility to low-income families” misses the mark.

Baltimore County could hardly select a worse property to meet the need for affordable housing. The site is located in Historic East Towson, one of the few historically African-American communities still remaining in Baltimore County.

Its origins date to the 1700s and the slave plantation now known as Hampton National Historic Site. Some of the Ridgely family’s hundreds of manumitted slaves began their own community in the 1850s a few miles away in East Towson. Generations built homes and raised families there. Churches and community life flourished.

Unconscionably, for most of its history, Towson’s Black community has been the dumping ground for things white people didn’t want in their own neighborhoods.

Some examples: A massive BGE power substation relocated to the heart of the neighborhood in 1965, erasing eight homes. In the 1980s, more East Towson homes were lost to the construction of the Towson bypass. Several homes were razed to make way for a Stanley Black and Decker parking lot. The District Courthouse, the Towson library and four affordable housing projects also encroach on land that was originally part of the East Towson community.

Three previous proposals for the property (in 1956, 1960 and 1973 for apartments, offices and condominiums, respectively) failed, indicating enormous challenges for development that made the site unsellable as well. The owner of the property, a well-connected developer, was stuck.

Baltimore County to the rescue: under the previous administration the county brokered a deal between the property owner and Homes for America, thereby solving the developer’s dilemma. Two birds with one stone: the possibility of “movement” on the voluntary conciliation agreement commitments and making an influential developer happy.

Also a matter of record; the relationship between Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, whose executive director and a board member authored the March 14 commentary, and its property partner, Homes for America, the nonprofit housing development corporation which specializes in developing and preserving affordable rental housing and is the developer of Red Maple Place, is a fiduciary one of long-standing.

Now comes Red Maple Place, a fully-formed product with no meaningful flexibility to its size or configuration. It’s disingenuous for the BRHP representatives to gloss over the objections that arose during the process as due to “aesthetics (and) environmental concerns.”

Homes for America and the county acted together to roll over Historic East Towson like a bulldozer.

The county waived one development and environmental standard after another to shoehorn this project into the last remaining green space in Towson. With too much building for the site, design standards, environmental laws and open space public facilities, all provisions put in place to protect the quality of life and health of Baltimore County citizens, were waived to enable this project.

To name the project for a native tree, so many of which will be destroyed by its construction, adds insult to injury.

Alternate, available adjacent sites in East Towson were also suggested which would have helped the county move forward on its voluntary conciliation agreement commitments without the environmental impact of the proposed site. This was rejected.

It is completely accurate to say the objections included “targeting a historically Black community.” As if doing so is acceptable.

The voluntary conciliation agreement stipulates the county is “to avoid clustering families using housing choice vouchers (i.e. subsidized housing) in racially segregated or low-income areas.” The African-American East Towson census tracts are among the poorest in the Towson area.

Clearly, the objections to Red Maple Place were not to affordable housing – a great need in Baltimore County. To charge otherwise undercuts the believability of the proponents’ arguments.

The many organizations and community members that support Historic East Towson will continue to object to locating the proposed project on the Historic East Towson site, as yet one more manifestation of the institutional racism that has systematically worked to destroy this almost 200-year-old African-American community over many decades.

This commentary was published in Maryland Matters.

Environmental advocates made tree-mendous contributions to Towson communities this year

By COURTNEY MCGEE

BALTIMORE SUN MEDIA |

DEC 29, 2021 AT 5:00 AM

Shannon McDonald, of Knollwood, started participating in environmental organizations when she was in seventh grade (thanks to Earth Science class). She began planting trees with Blue Water Baltimore in 2014 and took part in cleanups when it was the Jones Falls Watershed Association.

McDonald’s commitment to the environment as a whole is remarkable, but what really motivates her is trees. “I have a deep-seated love of trees,” she says. “Seeing huge canopies both with leaves and without brings me peace. If we don’t keep planting trees, eventually those canopies will die out. I want every kid [city, county, country] to grow up feeling the protection of big trees.”

I am thankful for McDonald and other local tree enthusiasts for their efforts in planting 342 trees in 10 Towson communities during six work sessions in November and December. This project began last summer, when Green Towson Alliance volunteers and Green Teams from neighborhood associations went door-to-door to tell people about the opportunity to purchase and have trees planted through Blue Water Baltimore. Homeowners were able to choose what sort of tree they wanted. The native varieties planted this fall include willow oaks, northern red oaks, swamp white oaks, tulip poplars, American elms, bald cypresses, London planetrees, American lindens, riverbirches, black gums, and serviceberries.

volunteers planting trees at Knollwood
The hard-working crew from the Dec. 4 tree planting in Towson. Photo credit: Councilman David Marks

It’s a win-win situation. “Given the fact that a homeowner, business or community association is receiving quality native trees at a discounted rate, delivered and installed for them it’s kind of a no-brainer, once you realize that trees take a long time to grow to the size of the ones that are just now breaking down. For example, the sycamores planted in Stoneleigh that have 1½-foot to 2-foot diameters were planted 100-plus years ago,” says McDonald.

Trees bring tranquillity to our neighborhoods and provide shelter for birds and wildlife. They are a step toward mitigating climate change, keeping neighborhoods cooler in summer months, absorbing carbon and removing pollutants, filtering water, and absorbing ultraviolet radiation. Plus their beauty improves property values and positively impacts the health and well-being of the humans around them.

Darin Crew from Blue Water notes that since 2012, the group’s tree planting program in the Greater Towson and Lutherville area has planted 774 trees in neighborhoods including: Anneslie, Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, West Towson, Southland Hills, Lake Walker, Towson Manor Village, Knollwood, Woodbrook, Lutherville, Idlewylde, Kenilworth, Gaywood, Aigburth Manor, and Wiltondale.

McDonald calls on all of us to get involved and inspire young people to join in. “If the same kids who were raised singing ‘We Are the World’ and ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ participate and encourage their children/neighbors to make small environmental shifts, a large change will occur,” she says. “I encourage everyone reading this article to consistently try one change: remembering to use reusable shopping bags; picking up trash 15 minutes a week; removing ivy choking trees and shrubs; etc. These actions add up. Physical participation is so good for mental health, and if younger community members participate this will become a paradigm shift where they go and grow.”