Neil Sperry

A tree is a really meaningful, lasting gift

Tree-form crape myrtles are a good gift option for children to give.
Tree-form crape myrtles are a good gift option for children to give. Special to the Star-Telegram

Want to give a gift that could change lives for generations? It’s not great wealth you can pass on to your heirs, and it’s not a life-saving medical breakthrough. But it’s a gift of a lifetime — a tree you give in recognition of someone important to you. Perhaps it’s a memorial tree, or maybe it’s a Mother’s Day gift. It might be to celebrate a new home or a new baby. Whatever the reason, you want it to be a gift that will grow and improve with the years.

Best tree choices for gifting

▪ Oaks. I’ve long contended that wherever you live, if there’s an oak that will grow there, it’s probably going to be your best landscaping investment. They’re handsome, relatively pest-durable, well adapted to a variety of soil situations, and they look great. We have four great oaks in North Texas.

Live oaks are native just west of Fort Worth and down through the Texas Hill Country. They’re dark green and evergreen, and their majestic branches spread 40 feet in all directions. Mature height of live oaks is usually 35 or 40 feet.

Life expectancy is the big point with them. There are live oaks in Texas that are 500 to 1,000 years old. That’s a real statement of undying love you can give your recipient. Just be sure he or she has adequate room for that 80-foot limb span.

Shumard red oaks are native throughout North Central Texas, and also down into the Hill Country. They’re rounded trees, growing to 50 feet tall and wide. Their leaves are deep green, often turning bright shades of red, orange, gold and burgundy as fall progresses. Their life expectancy is 100 to 200 years.

Bur oaks are native to North Texas river bottoms. They grow to 60 feet tall and wide, and they bring an incredibly bold texture to their surroundings. Their leaves are dinner plate-sized, and their trunks are deeply fissured with coarse bark.

Chinquapin oaks are also native to North Texas river bottoms and wetlands. Like bur oaks, they’ve gained wide acceptance in urban landscaping. Their growth habit is somewhat oval in their youth, later broadening out to be rounded. They grow to be 50 feet tall and wide. Their dark green leaves are toothed, and their gray bark is attractively platy. Neither bur oaks nor chinquapin oaks have noteworthy fall color.

▪ Chinese pistachios are putting on a delightful show this fall, and many people are probably looking for them as a result. Obviously (by its name), it’s not a North Texas native, but it has been growing here for 75 or 80 years or longer, and the trees seem to keep thriving. I’m proud to recommend it, and Texas A&M has granted it its Texas SuperStar Plant award.

Pistachios grow to 45 feet tall and wide. They’re dark green all summer, turning shades of red, yellow and orange in the fall.

▪ Southern magnolias are native to East Texas and they’re suited to local conditions, as long as their planting site has deep soil (not shallow white rock). The native species is a huge tree, to 75 feet tall and 50 feet wide (if in ideal growing conditions). Most urban lots don’t have that kind of space, so that’s why gardeners often choose smaller types like Little Gem or Teddy Bear instead.

All are deep green and evergreen. They produce very large white flowers from late April, through May and into the summer. It should be noted that magnolias grow more slowly than the other trees mentioned. Buy a larger specimen to speed things along.

▪ Tree-form crape myrtles are even good candidates, especially for gardens that already have enough large trees. There are hundreds of crape myrtles in the Metroplex that are approaching 100 years old — and they’re still growing strong. They make fabulous (and manageably sized) gifts for a child to give to a parent.

Those are a few of the best choices in trees, but the decisions don’t stop there. You also need to find a great specimen. While this may be a great time for giving and planting a new tree, it may not be the easiest time to find the tree. Independent retail nurseries that also sell to landscape contractors will be your best sources. They keep trees on hand year-round, and they’ll also have the equipment and skills to deliver and plant a large tree, if that’s what you’re seeking.

Freshly planted shade trees may need to be trimmed or thinned, both to remove damaged branches and also to compensate for roots that might have been lost if the trees were dug and transplanted. New trees must also be staked and guyed carefully to hold them upright until their roots are firmly established, usually two years. Be sure the wires don’t rub through the tree’s bark in the process.

Shumard red oaks, chinquapin oaks and Chinese pistachios have very thin outer bark when they’re young. When we plant them in direct sunlight they often suffer sunscald and bark splitting. Apply paper tree wrap from the ground up to the lowest branches to shield them from sunscald and subsequent invasion by borers.

Regular inattention to watering is about the only other thing that might keep your gift tree from thriving. Make provisions that it will be watered deeply a couple of times weekly at least for the first two or three years.

Neil Sperry hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: http://neilsperry.com.

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