Of trees and tree houses: Plant a legacy for Father’s Day

Does Father’s Day bring to mind fond memories? Did your father leave a gardening legacy? Did you instill a lasting garden memory on your children? This Father’s Day consider making a garden memory that will last a lifetime. As a gardener, several possibilities come to mind. Plant a tree with your child and watch it grow through the years. Discuss the importance of trees and plants to our well-being. Take an annual photograph next to the tree to give it special meaning. Planting a fruit tree may add years of eating enjoyment and will contribute to future food sustainability. Think lychee, mango or tangerines.

Prior to the birth of our son, a seedling tree was planted in the yard that was to become the best climbing tree in the neighborhood. The young tree strained under the weight of 3- and 4-year-olds proving their bravery by climbing the highest. The tree grew along with the kids. The fun each of them had can only be measured by the laughter, smiles and memories the tree provided through the years.

Nostalgia perhaps, but a great climbing tree is a jewel in itself. The best climbing trees are strong enough to bear the weight of the climbers, have branches at regular intervals to aid climbing, lack thorns or many small branches, are well-rooted to prevent toppling and do not have irritants in the leaves or sap. Select trees with good branch angles that are not prone to splitting or easily snapping. My favorite is the guava tree. Its branches are strong and flexible and its smooth bark makes scraped skin and snagged clothes less likely. Guava trees also have a profusion of branches that make climbing easy, even for little children. Other good climbing trees include banyan, mango and thornless citrus. Trees to avoid are those that break easily, such as lychee.

Pruning is important in developing a great climbing tree. Remove branches to create regular climbing intervals and open space for movement among them. By selectively pruning the terminal shoot out of certain trees, initiation of lateral branching is enhanced because of the lack of apical dominance. The apical or terminal shoot in trees, such as the ironwood, produce a hormone that suppresses the development of side branches.

Another garden project that can add many years of fun and lasting memories is a tree house. Tree houses can be as simple as a platform for sitting in a tree to professionally designed and built structures one could live in. Like climbing trees, proper selection of trees is critical to the success of the project. Those with spreading branches and good roots are best for stability. Large banyan trees can make a wonderful base for a tree house. Banyans are strong, yet flexible and anchoring boards to the branches causes relatively little harm to the health of the tree. When selecting a tree, choose specimens that can support the weight of the intended structure, items placed in the structure and individuals occupying the tree house. The combined weight can easily add up to several hundred pounds, even in a modest tree house. Use long lag bolts to secure boards to branches.

Plan how the tree house will be reached from the ground. Options include stairs, ladder, rope or climbing; each house will have unique elements that make one approach better than the rest.

Before starting construction, check with local building codes to see if there are any special requirements or restrictions for tree houses. It is a good idea to tell the neighbors your plans, especially if the tree house will overlook their yard or windows.

For more information on this and other gardening topics, visit the CTAHR electronic publication website at ctahr.hawaii.edu/Site/Info.aspx or visit any of the local Cooperative Extension Service offices around the island. I can be reached at russelln@hawaii.edu.