Planting a Tree: My First Hole

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

I can best describe my yard as "sod over problems" -- a quick and dirty fix from the folks who flipped my house. After I moved in, the neighbors helpfully explained that the place had once been a wreck, and the yard overrun with trees. As I stared at the naked new sappling out front, I struggled to imagine how tree removal had been an improvement. New sod and cedar chips. A place to begin.

I live in an arrid climate. As I foresaw endless streams of water funneling onto the lawn, a bold new thought occurred: "And I thought my dogs drank a lot." (Big dogs, big hydration.) "The plants chug it down, my fish actually live in it, and I keep flushing toilets and washing stuff. This could get expensive."

I thought about long-term vs. short-term frugality, read as much about water conservation as I could sneak in while at work, and then decided to xeriscape. Yes, I would be environmentally responsible and landscape my yard with plants that would thrive on dehydration and neglect, while providing an esthetically pleasing environment.

I wanted to be surrounded by greenery without having to care for it much. It's not that I'm lazy. I've just lived with myself long enough to know how I'm likely to spend the time that I have, and what my aging physical form can endure. Yardwork as meditation? Yes. As an activity? No. I would of course do the work to get things started, since hiring landscapers would be too expensive. But after that I would just sit back and enjoy the view.

So I hired a landscape architect. The articles all said to plan ahead, but I was limited by my inability to measure the yard. Fortunately, the man I hired had 12" feet -- his measuring tools of choice. He could draw better than I, steered me away from plants that would be "invasive" (who knew....), and in the end produced an amazing diagram of my house surrounded by various circles. Some looked like little waffles, some like stars. I couldn't really visualize what all this would turn out to be, but was thrilled to at least have a plan!

The designer took all summer to finish, so I wasn't ready to start work until fall. I decided to begin with the trees. Various articles said fall was a good time to plant trees, as it gave their root systems time to get established before they started growing in the spring. The articles went on to explain that in spring the trees would start drinking heavily for a year or so, but when their roots finally reached deep enough into the earth to draw moisture from some place other than the faucet on the outside of my house, I could water them "less."

So I took a list of items from my landscape design over to a the nursery nearby that was having a sale. Suffering from sensory overload, my eyes interpreted everything as "plants." After an hour of reading tags I was able to identify a few items on my list. I also learned that, 1) two hundred dollars does not buy many large plants, even on sale, and 2) a tree will not fit in my car.

Thankfully, I have a friend with a truck, who was happy to pick up my tree. Being more experienced in yard work than I, he was also very happy to lend me his shovel. And then to leave.

Dirt is hard -- I learned that in a hurry. Several blisters into the project, I had barely made a dent in the soil. When my sister found out what I was doing, she said I was engaging in "reckless activity" that could render me unable to work. Another friend was concerned that I would hurt my back. Figuring the law of averages was against absolutely everyone I knew discouraging me, I called someone else. "Just do a little at a time," she said. "As in life," I thought.

And that is how I came to dig my first hole. I'm not finished with it yet, but I know that I will. My friend with the truck suggested that I pour some water into the hole to moisten the soil. It helped. Apparently dirt can use water as well. But the soil will support and nourish my tree, so the water is not really lost.

This morning, the first thing I did was look at my yard. The hole is in process; the tree standing by. In just a few days, my beautiful tree will be in the ground. Its roots will find their way deep into the soil. When it grows it will have beautiful white flowers in spring. It will stand between me and the hot summer sun; then show beautiful colors in fall. And in years to come it will be forty feet tall.

I expect that my project will take a while. There are more trees to plant -- bushes and flowers as well. We'll get this thing done, my yard and I. One hole at a time.

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