Black Gum

Asked September 18, 2020, 2:42 PM EDT

Hello, I am receiving a few black gum trees on 9/26//2020 so I had some questions:
1. I cannot obtain a soil test by 9/26/20, so what time of soil can be safe to put in the holes?
2. How far from a metal fence should I plant them?
3. How far apart should I plant each tree?
4. Are there any other special care besides regular watering?
5. Do I have to check with the utility companies before I plant them and how do I go about doing that? Thanks

Howard County Maryland

1 Response

It's ok that you won't have soil test results in time. Organic matter (such as compost) is a great soil additive in areas where the ground is compacted or needs improved drainage. (It also helps to bind sand-based soils.) Relatively little is needed to amend the soil, and adding too much may change drainage patterns or impede root establishment, so use only enough to give your native soil a crumblier texture; blend the compost with the native soil thoroughly.

Though they grow at a fairly moderate pace, Black Gum are large trees at maturity, so give them as much clearance from the fence as you are able. Between trees, a minimum of perhaps 20' (trunk to trunk) would be good; further is even better, though certainly trees in the wild can grow much closer to each other than this. Giving each tree more space will allow for more even canopy growth (mostly an aesthetic benefit) and less root competition. If you do not have enough space to separate the trees by these distances, they will do ok closer together; you may just have to monitor them more closely in times of high heat and/or drought for watering needs.

They don't require special care and the typical "good practices" advice for any tree apply - proper planting depth, mulching or shielding them from lawn, minimal staking, proper pruning as needed, watering as needed, and protecting the trunk from deer if applicable. Here are some pages which may be helpful:

  • watering
  • pruning
  • mulching - a recommended way to keep any adjacent lawn from growing too close to the tree, both to minimize root competition but also to shield the trunk from accidental contact with mowers, weed-whackers, or lawn herbicides, all of which can cause serious and untreatable damage (see "properly mulched tree" photo for guidance)
  • planting depth - the root flare, which is where the roots begin to branch off of the trunk, should sit at or just below the soil surface. It is not uncommon for nursery-grown trees to become buried too deeply in their pots; when removed from the pot for planting, this excess soil may need to be removed (gently with fingers or a strong hose spray) in order to reveal the location of the flare. Once found, the depth from the flare to the base of the root ball is how deep you should dig the hole in which the tree will be planted. This ensures the tree doesn't sink over time as the loosened soil (from hole preparation and digging) settles over time.
  • staking - this can benefit trees on slopes, high wind areas, or those which might be tugged-on by children. Otherwise, staking is not recommended as the wind movement it experiences will more quickly stimulate anchoring roots and a taper to the trunk (where the base widens down to the root flare to stabilize the tree). If stakes are used, do not tie them taut to the tree to both keep the bark undamaged and also to allow the tree to sway in a breeze; remove them in six to twelve months, because if they haven't done their job in that time window, they're not working.
  • deer - they may nibble foliage on a range of tree species until they can no longer reach it, but more importantly, bucks choose young trees on which they will rub their antlers to rid them of velvet in autumn. This can damage bark to the point of causing significant dieback. Using a cage or fencing around the trunk will prevent them from reaching it. Put it far enough away from the trunk that it has room to grow and where it can help keep curious deer away from the foliage as well. Various trunk-wrap products are another alternative, so long as they allow for trunk expansion as the tree grows, and ideally offer ventilation (like perforated holes).
Contacting Miss Utility will enable you to determine if any buried utility lines are in the planting area. Here is their Maryland homeowners page: