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Picking the Perfect Tree

By Paul James

Not all shade and ornamental trees grow well in all parts of the metropolitan area because soil types vary enormously, from sand to clay to practically everything in between.  But no matter where you live and no matter your soil type, there are trees suited to your conditions. You just have to know which ones to pick. 

Trees for Sandy Soil

In general, all trees grow well in sandy soils, but you’ll need to pay close attention to their watering needs, especially during their first year in the ground and during hot, dry summers. (That’s true of all trees, actually, no matter the soil type, but it’s doubly true of those planted in sandy soils because they drain quickly.)They may also need to be fertilized more frequently because nutrients leach faster through sandy soil.

Sandy soils are generally found close to the Arkansas River and its tributaries, especially in Tulsa, Jenks, and Bixby.

Trees for Clay Soil

In clay soils, which tend to hold moisture, your choices are limited, but the candidates include some truly great trees such as lacebark elm, Chinese pistache, Shumard oak, tupelo, and bald cypress. If your clay soil isn’t too heavy and drains reasonably well, you could add other oaks as well as most maples. Do not plant cherry trees in clay soil because they require excellent drainage.

Clay soils are typically found throughout most of Owasso, North Broken Arrow and portions of east Tulsa, especially north and east of 61st and Memorial.

Note: If you’re determined to plant a tree that’s not recommended for clay soil, plant it high, with at least a third of the rootball above grade, and cover the exposed rootball with mulch. 

Trees for Everything in Between

Thankfully, most soils in the area are made up of what’s called sandy loam, which is a mix of sand, clay, and silt. That includes most of Tulsa, especially midtown, areas west to Highway 97, and a good portion of Sand Springs north of Highway 412. In these areas, you should have good luck with pretty much any tree provided you give it proper care.

A Word of Caution

Keep in mind that soil types and conditions can vary enormously even in areas where the soil is generally considered to be ideal. That’s especially true of new construction sites, because heavy equipment can cause severe compaction. Contractors may also remove valuable topsoil or bring in nasty fill dirt while grading. I’ve even seen huge differences in soil types between the front and back yards of individual homes.

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2 responses to “Picking the Perfect Tree”

  1. I planted some azalea plants last spring. Was I suppose to
    cut them back in the fall? They now have the old brown leaves & stems still on.
    Will they bloom again.?

    • Paul James says:

      The time to prune and fertilize azaleas is right after they bloom in spring. It sounds as though your azaleas may be suffering from a lace bug invasion. Spray them with Neem oil, making sure to spray the undersides of the leaves in particular. They should bounce back.