Thinking of planting some trees or laying down some grass this year? We have a few suggestions from local experts. Doing so helps to avoid soil erosion. Soil erosion simply put is the process by which the nutrient rich topsoil is removed by wind or water. The result is that it becomes a desert-like type of environment, whereby nothing can grow there. One method of creating a barrier to soil erosion is to plant trees, grass and other plants. This provides a protective cover.

The northern location of the Cree communities means only that the plants, trees and grasses grow more slowly, at about half the rate compared to those species further south. Spring, late summer and fall are the ideal times to do general lawn chores, as the cooler temperatures enhance grass growth.

Some species of grass and trees tend to grow better up north though, such as ‘quack grass’, ‘blue grass’ and ‘carex’. They are not as soft on the feet as the other grasses, but the growth is fast and permanent.

Laying Sod (Grass)

Healthy grass roots need six to eight inches of soil for good growth. Without it, grass plants won’t develop adequate root systems. Whether seeding or sodding, always properly prepare the soil first to ensure a healthy lawn and fewer chores in the future. Dig or rototill two inches peat moss into the top six inches of soil. Break up lumps and level ground.

If seeding: Spread high quality grass seeds, about 3 lbs. of seed per 1,000 sq. ft. Fertilize and water with a fine spray. Top dress with a 1/4 to 1/2 inch layer of peat moss over the seeds. Water lightly.

If sodding: When laying sod yourself, asks a local sod supplier for the proper application. After laying sod, fill the cracks with peat moss. It’s a good idea to sprinkle additional grass seeds between the cracks. Water lightly.

Remember: Moisten seeded or sodden area daily (or twice daily during hot/dry periods) for two to three weeks.

The trees that do well up north are willows, birch, spruce and aspen. Fruit trees, such as prune trees tend to do well up north.

Tree Planting Steps

1. Minimize stress to your trees

Protect your tree well during transport to avoid bruising the bark and breaking twigs, branches, and buds. Pad the tree trunk and branches with burlap and tie all loose ends with soft rope or twine. Keep the root ball moist and cover exposed bare roots with wet burlap or moss. Cover tree crowns with wet burlap to prevent drying of the tops, especially evergreen. Keep the tree in a shady location until it is time to plant.

2. Prepare the planting spot

Remove grass, weeds and ground cover (turf) within a 50-cm radius of the planting hole. These plants compete with the tree for water and nutrients. Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the container or root ball (to accommodate the entire root system), and to the depth of the root ball. Roughen the sides and bottom of the hole to allow root penetration. If good quality soil is not available, break up the turf taken from the top and put it in the hole around the root ball, where it will break down into good rooting soil. Peat or loam, if added, would improve this mixture.

Soil in the hole should be moist, not too wet or too dry. A cone-shaped mound of soil at the bottom of the hole is advised for bare-root trees. This will allow the roots to develop downward and outward into the surrounding soil.

3. Prepare your trees for root growth

Bare-root: Loosen the roots with a spray of water and straighten them to prevent doubling-under, crowding, and crossing. Do not expose the roots to direct sunlight or drying winds for more than a minute to avoid damaging the fine root hairs. Container: Trees should be kept in the container until the last possible moment before planting. Burlapped: Trees wrapped in burlap should not be soaked prior to planting. There is no need to remove the burlap; just loosen it and it will soon rot away. In cool and dry soil conditions, it may be preferable to remove the burlap rather than leaving it to slowly decompose. Roots circling the outside of the root ball should be clipped, and roots matted on the bottom should be cut off.

4. Plant your tree with care

Bare-root: The root crown is set on the mound and the roots spread over and down the sides of the mound. Refill the hole with good quality soil, gently raising and lowering the tree while filling to eliminate air pockets. Burlapped / Container: Plant the tree so that the top of the root ball is flush with the top of the hole. Fill the hole in and around the root ball with good quality soil or soil removed from the hole. Tamp the soil around the root ball until the hole is two-thirds full. Fill the remaining space with water to settle the soil and allow the hole to drain. Finish filling the hole with soil and make a ridge of soil around the root ball to direct water towards the roots. Water applied beyond the root ball is not available to the tree until roots grow into the native soil. If soil settles after a few days of watering, additional soil may be required to refill the planting hole.

Taking Care of Your Trees

Watering: If your soil allows water to drain easily (i.e., sandy), soak the tree two to four hours twice a week for the first two to three months and weekly thereafter for the first year. The roots must not be allowed to dry out. Peat moss mixed with sandy soils at the time of planting will improve water retention capacity. During the second year, water twice a month during the late spring and summer. If your soil contains a lot of clay and water tends to puddle around the tree, lighter watering is recommended to prevent flooding and to ensure that the roots receive enough oxygen to permit growth. Additional watering of evergreens, prior to freeze-up will minimize the detrimental effects of winter drying.

Fertilizing: Fertilizer helps trees thrive and resist drought, disease, and insects. High phosphorus fertilizers are recommended at planting time to promote root growth. Later on, higher nitrogen fertilizers can be applied for greening and top growth. Slow-acting fertilizer can be applied anytime, but mineral uptake is greatest from May through July. Fast-acting fertilizer is best applied in spring so that the new growth it stimulates has time to mature by winter.

Staking: Staking trees larger than one meter is recommended as it prevents dislodging by wind, people, and animals. Make sure the stake ties do not cause damage to the bark. The stakes should be removed after two or three growing seasons.

Pruning: Prune at planting simply to improve branch spacing and promote a strong structure in the tree. Annual pruning should be started when the trees are young in order to train them to the desired shape.

Deciduous trees (those trees that lose their leaves in the fall) should be pruned while dormant – in late fall or early spring. Exceptions are birch and maple, which must be pruned when the leaves are fully grown or they will bleed. Remove dead, damaged, diseased, weak and thin, or rubbing branches. Remove water sprouts from the trunk and main branches and suckers from the trunk base or roots. Thin the young branches to maintain the desired crown shape and size. Cut just outside the branch collar (the swollen area at the branch base), and do not make flush cuts or leave stubs.

Conifers (those trees that have thin leaves, needles, and produces cones) are pruned to direct new growth, and increase density. Entire branches are not usually removed, since unsightly gaps will result. Spruce and fir must be pruned in late spring after new growth has started but not yet matured. New pine buds should be pinched back in early June when the new growth (candle) has reached full length.

These are general guiding principles for tree planting and care. For more specific information, please consult your local garden center, district agriculturalist, forester or forest technician, library, or tree nursery staff on proper planting procedures for individual species.

Growing Herbs

Herbs combine both beauty and function into one plant. They are easy to grow, require little care, are virtually pest free, beautiful to look at and are useful as medicines, seasoning, teas, and scents. In general, herbs need soil that is well drained and full sun but will thrive on as little as 6 hours of sunlight per day.

For a small herb garden, choose a well-drained area that receives full sun most of the day. Some species like little less sunlight. They include: catnip, dill, ginger, mint, tarragon, and thyme. Group these plants together in partial shade.

Prepare the soil as you would for a regular garden. Build high rows for good drainage. Before planting, make sure compost is worked into your soil. If using a chemical fertilizer, reduce the amount used by 1/2 the requirements suggested by the manufacturer and feed monthly. Try using an organic fertilizer for top dressing, cultivating into the top layer of soil, and then watering in thoroughly.

Herbs that are started easily from vegetative parts include: chives, bulblettes, stem cuttings of thyme, runners of lemon balm, and cuttings of rosemary, sage, and winter savory. Mints are aggressive, and they can be propagated easily from runners or crowns. You may need to place mint in a barrier to keep it from spreading throughout the garden.

Planting seeds: Cover seeds lightly with only 1/16 or 1/8 inch of soil. You may want to mulch plants that are developing because many are delicate. If you grow herbs in containers, use three parts of garden soil and one part of compost. Add sand if the garden soil is heavy. Because most herbs are grown for their oils, don’t encourage too much growth. Excessive growth tends to dilute these oils and make the herbs weak in taste. Go easy on fertilizers, and don’t over-water.

Pinching back the bushes will keep the herb plants stockier.

The fresh, tender leaves that are at or near full maturity will have the most oils. These are the ones you should harvest.

The productive period of a plant may be extended by pinching off the flower buds as they begin to develop, by doing this, it will allow the vegetative parts to be harvested. Wash plant parts in cold water and dry them quickly in a dark, airy room. Harvest seed crops when the seeds are mature. This is usually when the herb’s color changes from green to brown or gray.

Drying Herbs

An easy way to preserve fresh herbs is by drying them. Start by washing the herbs. Do this in the garden with a light spray of water before you cut them. Let them dry and then cut the stalks and bring them inside. Remove each individual leaf from the stem. Be careful not to bruise the leaves as that can turn some herb leaves black. Idea! Save the stems for burning in the fireplace this winter. They smell great.

Place the leaves in a shallow wicker basket with a weave that allows air to flow through. For herbs with tiny leaves, such as rosemary or oregano, use cheesecloth stretched over a frame.

This process usually takes three to four days inside. Once a day, shake and redistribute the leaves so they dry more evenly. If they are drying too quickly, cover with newspaper.

Once they are completely dry, crumble the leaves and put them into labeled, airtight containers.

Some of the herbs you may want to try including: basil, bay leaves, chives, coriander, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, savory, sage and thyme.