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Garden Q&A: How to plant a native tree for Arbor Day

Q: We’d like to celebrate Arbor Day (April 29) by planting a native tree sapling. Do you have any recommendations?

A: Oaks top the list for benefits to wildlife in terms of overall caterpillar support and, by extension, attracting birds. Overall, canopy trees are a great choice, providing numerous ecosystem services, great carbon sequestration, and helping to maintain tree cover in our cities and suburbs. Plus, they house many other wild animals. Think of the potential for cute flying squirrels, screech owls and tree frogs!

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There are nearly two dozen species of oak found statewide in Maryland’s natural areas, and only one of them (sawtooth oak) is non-native. Given the range of soil tolerances among such a varied group, there will be an oak for nearly every site as long as it gets a good amount of sun while establishing. Some oaks are better-adapted to short-term soil sogginess, while others are resilient during drought; some need acid soils while others can grow in calcareous (higher pH) soils.

Outside of oaks, there are many native understory and canopy trees that are suitable for typical suburban yards, if you have the room. (Keep them away from overhead power lines.) For soils with above-average moisture: river birch, black tupelo, American hornbeam, sweetbay magnolia, serviceberry and smooth alder should grow well. For drier sites, consider Eastern redcedar, hackberry, pignut hickory, American persimmon, sumacs and hophornbeam.

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A few of these you might need to source from native nurseries as relatively young seedlings or saplings, but the rest are more mainstream and stocked by most independent garden centers. Young trees settle-in faster than larger specimens, so not only will they be less stressed, but they’ll catch up to their older counterparts in just a few years. (Plus, who doesn’t want a smaller hole to dig?) Get them off to a good start by following the tips on our Planting a Tree or Shrub page so you plant them at the proper depth for healthy root development. To learn how climate change impacts tree selection, you can explore our new Planting Trees in Our Changing Climate page. National Arbor Day falls on the last Friday of April, so consider planting a tree this weekend!

Q: Where can I learn more about spotted lanternfly? I found a few in my yard last year and I occasionally saw others when I traveled locally. Will they threaten my plants like the invasive stink bugs? I assume they’ll turn up again this year.

A: This insect is expanding its range in Maryland and nearby states, so you may see more of them around the state this year. We keep our Spotted Lanternfly Management for Residents webpage updated as new information becomes available, so this is a good starting point for learning what to look for and what your management options are. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) also maintains web resources, which you can find via links on our management page. As the epicenter of North America’s lanternfly invasion, Pennsylvania (via Penn State Extension) similarly revises their web publications with new data, including their new page dedicated to spotted lanternfly lore.

Compared to the brown marmorated stink bug, whose feeding injures an array of ripening fruits, it appears that the spotted lanternfly causes little serious plant damage except to cultivated grapes (mainly in vineyards) and tree-of-heaven (ailanthus). Since the latter is invasive, its demise is a non-issue. Instead, for the general public, the spotted lanternfly is primarily just a nuisance within the confines of your own yard.

A high population feeding on an individual native tree might weaken it, but involve a certified arborist’s assessment if you have concerns about the health of a tree on your property; don’t attempt to treat it yourself. The spotted lanternfly is not without predators as local species learn to eat them, so keep in mind potential consequences to other organisms if a pesticide is under consideration as an act of desperation.

In late April, we are rapidly approaching the typical egg-hatch time for Central Maryland, though some warmer counties and cities may already be seeing juveniles (nymphs) hopping about. If they land on you by accident, don’t worry — they don’t bite or sting — you’re just a convenient springboard for their next leap. They’re only concerned with ingesting plant sap, using tender plants like perennials for now and switching to woody plants (trees, shrubs) as they mature. While you shouldn’t panic if you find them in your yard, do try to keep them from hitching a ride to other areas, such as on plants swapped between gardeners.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at extension.umd.edu/hgic. Click “Ask Extension” to send questions and photos.


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