Trees have been extending their value around the globe for thousands of years. They bring us rich benefits for life, like cleaner air, natural water filtration, erosion prevention, food and cooler temperatures on hot days. Forests cover nearly one-third of the globe, but unfortunately, times are changing.
A recent study found that wildfires are burning twice as many trees as 20 years ago — a whopping 7.4 million acres per fire season. As global warming causes more fires, droughts and flooding, planting trees has never been more important.
Planting a tree with your kids is a great way to teach them the importance of climate change while also becoming part of the solution. Plus, it’s a fun and easy activity most children love participating in.
Benefits of Planting Trees with Kids
Planting is a terrific opportunity to teach your children important life lessons while having fun. Tree planting has several benefits, including the following:
- Learning about nature: Digging, planting, sowing seeds and providing ongoing tree care teaches your kids the science of growing trees and how nature works.
- Boosting self-confidence: Children can see the results of their hard work over time and feel proud of their accomplishments.
- Learning responsibility and discipline: Caring for trees requires providing water, nutrients, and sun, cutting branches and keeping pests away. As kids handle these responsibilities over time, they learn the importance and rewards of discipline.
- Building creative skills: Planting is a bit like playing. Children learn ways to accomplish goals by “getting their hands dirty.” As they care for the tree, they can learn how to measure it and document its growth process by drawing it, taking pictures and writing about its progress in a journal.
- Increasing physical activity: Planting requires walking, bending, carrying and cutting, which is good exercise. It’s a good way to stay active and enjoy the outdoors.
- Learning the importance of helping the environment: As discussed in the introduction, the environment is an increasingly crucial concern. A tree is an integral part of maintaining a healthy planet. Children learn that planting makes them part of the solution to our world’s environmental issues.
Preparing for Tree Planting
There is more to planting a tree than digging a hole, setting the tree or in and watering. Here are some things you’ll want to do to prepare for your day of tree planting.
Determine the Best Time to Plant a Tree
If you live in a tropical or subtropical area, you can plant at any time of the year. For non-tropical regions, the best time is during the dormant seasons (fall and early spring) when the weather is still cool and moist. In the spring, you’ll want to plant before the rainy season and before new buds grow.
Decide Which Tree to Plant
Select a native tree species for best results. Reach out to your local nursery or garden center for guidance. Take special note of your microclimate, soil consistency, the sunlight in the planting area and drainage considerations.
It’s best to plant a sapling (a young tree) or a tree with an established root system. Avoid planting seeds so that the growing process is more exciting for your children to track.
Additionally, consider planting a fruit tree so your children have a tasty reward for their efforts!
Choose Where to Plant Your Tree
To choose the best place to plant your tree, you’ll want to think about how your tree’s growth will change the experience in and around your home. For instance, you may want to plant in an area that blocks high winds and provides shade in summer. You’ll also want to consider how much sunlight the tree can access.
Provide the tree with enough room to mature without damaging your home or surrounding structures. Take note of the potential trunk, branch, and root growth — some roots are strong enough to move concrete.
Lastly, avoid utility lines; otherwise, you could incur costly repairs during planting or as the tree grows.
Gather Materials for Planting Your Tree
Here are items to keep on hand when planting your tree. NOTE: Fertilizer is not on the list. Only use native soil. Apply fertilizer once the tree establishes itself.
- A tree
- Extra mulch and loose soil
- Spade or shovel
- Bucket of water
- Measuring tape
- Journal (optional)
- Camera (optional)
Consider purchasing an insecticide to keep your tree healthy. Here is our pick for a product that controls common pests like ants, crickets, spider mites, whiteflies, and even ticks, which have become an increasing issue in the U.S.
Safety Tips While Planting a Tree
Getting your kids out in the dirt may sound like a messy disaster waiting to happen, and it certainly can be! But getting gloves for you and your children can help keep things tidy while protecting your hands from bugs and sharp tools. It also helps to prevent bringing unwanted pests into your home.
Avoid Open-Toe Shoes
Planting involves carrying tools and walking on awkward ground, which increases the risk of injury. It’s important to wear proper, comfortable footwear. Plus, closed-toe shoes work similarly to gloves by keeping dirt and bugs off your children’s feet and out of your home.
Use Tools as Much as Possible
Using tools as opposed to your hands is another way to maintain a cleaner planting experience. Make sure you teach your children how to properly hold and use tools and save the more dangerous ones for adult use. Store your tools in a dry area away from sprinklers and the rain so they don’t rust.
Pay Attention to Your Posture
Moving heavy trees, bending and digging can strain your joints and back. Lift plants and heavy objects with your legs and maintain good posture to keep your body healthy.
How to Plant a Tree: a Step-by-Step Guide
Ready to start planting? Here are the 10 easy steps to planting a tree.
Step 1: Dig a hole 2 to 3 times larger than the pot’s diameter. Your hole should only be as deep as the root ball. If the ground is compact, dig five times the width and rough up the hole’s edge with a spade.
Step 2: Remove the tree from the pot and loosen the roots, trimming away any that grow in a circle or twist onto themselves. Don’t overcut, otherwise, the tree may go into shock. If you have a balled or burlapped tree (a tree with a wrapped root system), remove the material.
Step 3: Softly place the tree into the hole, ensuring it stands upright. Use a tarp or set the tree inside the hole to catch loose soil and prevent the root system from falling apart.
Step 4: Cover the roots with the native dirt two-thirds of the way. Remove large clumps of dirt or rocks. Using native soil encourages the roots to venture into new ground for healthier growth and prevents water from pooling and drowning the roots in loose soil.
Step 5: Pour water inside the hole. Once the dirt settles, add soil to the remaining hole and leave a berm around the edge.
Step 6: Build up the dirt and soil so it doesn’t rise higher than the flare of the trunk (where the trunk is thickest just before the roots). It may be difficult to spot the flare on small trees and saplings, but it’s there. The soil should stop right at the base of the flare, even on balled and burlapped trees.
Step 7: Pat the dirt with your hands and give the area a good soak with five to ten gallons of water. Do not use your feet for this step, as that could make the ground too firm for root growth.
Step 8: Make a ring of mulch (wood chips or small pieces of bark) around the tree base over the roots. Avoid letting the mulch touch the trunk. Keep the layer thin (four inches high at the most). Mulch helps prolong soil moisture and guards the tree against weeds.
Step 9: Add a stake to help the tree up during high winds or when accidentally hit during yard work. If necessary, you may want to create a windbreak to prevent strong wind from damaging the tree.
Step 10: Water the tree once a week. You’ll want to provide plenty of water in its first few years but avoid overwatering. Soak the entire root ball, but avoid keeping the soil wet all the time. The ground at the top should be dry before rewatering.
Check the soil a few times a week for the first few months to gauge the moisture levels. Then move to weekly checks. As time goes on, grow your watering area to reach the roots as they grow outward.
Taking Care of Your Tree With Your Children
When planting and checking on the growing progress, take the opportunity to teach your children about the tree’s life cycle. Explain the need for regular watering, how the roots work, when trees have too much or too little water, how leaves absorb light and how to spot pests.
Help your children chart the tree’s progress by having them measure the tree, take pictures, draw it and write down new things they see. Consider outlining steps or questions for your children to answer so they know what traits to spot.
Benefits of Trees and the Environment
Planting a tree with a child provides an excellent opportunity to teach how trees benefit both humans and the environment. Here are some benefits of trees to relay to your child as they care for the tree.
- Trees clean our air: Trees take up carbon dioxide, which helps limit climate change. One tree can absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Trees also expel oxygen, creating fresh air. A single tree produces over 260 pounds of oxygen annually — that’s enough for a family of four.
- Trees provide shelter for plants and animals: Trees are home to more than 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. That includes many animals (birds, squirrels, insects, etc), plants and fungi.
- Trees help filter water: Trees improve water quality by absorbing carbon dioxide from inside the water and adding oxygen. They also absorb bacteria, chemicals and metals.
- Trees provide food: Explain to your children that many of their favorite foods, like apples, oranges and peaches, grow on trees.
- Trees make life more comfortable: Their leaves provide shade in the summer to keep us cool. And in the winter, those leaves fall so we can feel the sun’s warmth. It’s even estimated that trees help us reduce utility bills by 30% by keeping our homes at a moderate temperature. A tree’s size and mass of leaves also block wind.
- Trees increase property values: Healthy, well-maintained trees increase property values by up to 14%. Even a tree has a monetary value as high as $10,000!