Trees on the Plains

Along rivers and creeks, down washes and gullies, sparse groves populate the banks. Cedars, honey mesquite, one seed juniper, soapberry, hackberry, willow, cottonwood and the invasive salt cedar freely populate Palo Duro Canyon, "hardwood" in Spanish,

It is the rare home that does not first seek to improve the landscape by planting both tree and turf -- horticultural challenges given our climate, soil and standard plant choices. Panhandle towns are dotted with trees. Viewed in comparison to the surrounding terrain, Amarillo shelters a forest.

No plant should be planted with more thought, planning and care than trees. Trees are subconsciously placed in a separate, special category by gardeners and people in general due to the greater size and longevity. An object of reverence by some, trees are indeed majestic beings. Although they might not reach the height and breadth of their sisters in moister climes, they can still reach magnificent proportions in our city parks, front and back yards.

Benefits Trees Provide

Trees provide many benefits to all, not just to the owners of the property they reside. Trees provide:

  • Beauty
  • Shade
  • A more moderate climate for yard and home
  • Wind break
  • Habitat for wildlife
  • Improved air quality
  • A more natural ecology
  • Water and energy savings
  • Privacy
  • Background setting
  • Four season and ground-to-sky visual interest
  • Increased property values
  • Recreational value

In all their myriad habitats from the everglades, mid and southwest riparian settings, woodland forests and the awe inspiring beauty of mountain stands, whether redwoods, palms or saguaros, trees are the kings of the landscape, deserving of the accolades bestowed them.

There are trees for nearly every landscape below the tree line. Different eco-regions, different habitats readily and easily grow different tree species. What grows in the northeastern forests, such as maples, whose brilliant fall foliage we so desire, does not work in the Texas High Plains. What grows in hot, humid climates and moist organic rich soils, does not work here. Be informed; it just makes sense to plant trees that like living in our climate and conditions. Just as not every plant sold in the Texas High Plains is a low maintenance, high success plant, unfortunately, that is the case with trees as well. Our list is small compared to other areas: gardeners beware, not every tree sold is suitable.

Yet it is still possible to achieve the dream of residing alongside a stately oak, elm, pistache, hawthorne, big tooth maple or pine on a lower maintenance level. Trees are fairly forgiving creatures. Abuses heaped on them may not show until later. Bad tree care is often worse than no tree care to the long term health of the tree, and combined with mismatched soils and climate, ultimately leads to disease and early death.

Trees require more attention to proper planting, care and selection to realize the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams at planting time than other plants. In driving across the High Plains, my thoughts don't question why more trees aren't found growing on the Texas High Plains, but what caused these lone sentinels to live, where others have long since passed. Still standing proud, resisting drought and sun, heat and cold, wind, hail, fire and wildlife browsing. Was it just luck, or better stock, or other factors at play?

I might not solve this mystery, but in the page, I hope the tree selection and care tips within will help you achieve healthier and long-lived trees, for yourself and generations to come.

Ask An Arborist

There are trees that have adapted to our climate and conditions with minimal care from home gardeners. Trees should not require constant care and attention with special potions and pruning. Look to the forests, who tends them? They thrive because, one might say, through natural selection: survival of the fittest. Really, it's just right plant for the right location. But because of extreme weather events, or mistakes made not only in tree selection, but also cultural habits, professional help may be required from time to time.

Because trees are such an important plant type, there is much beneficial information available to the gardener and consumer to help them in the care and choosing of trees. The International Society of Arboriculture sponsors two websites, and for consumers to learn about tree care. Because of the importance of trees, hiring a professional may be desirable. Not all tree care service providers have been trained in horticultural correct practices. For the sake of your trees, ask for an arborist, a specialist trained and certified in the care and treatment of trees which includes tree care, safety, selection, placement, planting, pruning, tree health, treatment for pests and diseases, and removal.

Angie Hanna