Allow for growth; dig wide—but not too deep.
Add soil amender to the raw red clay.
Remove the rope. Take burlap bag away.
Surround the root ball, mulch and go to sleep.

And as the roots unfold and slowly creep,
you’ll dream of branches long that lean and sway.
And after many years, you’ll see—one day,
against the sky, bright leaves that softly sweep.

No matter where you roam, it will remain.
And it will stay and wait for you, alone.
Out there, it will withstand the cold, the rain,
and, in December, winds that cry and moan.
And when you then return, one day, in pain,
you’ll find there shade—a shelter and a home.


Alan Sugar shares his poetry and performance art in Decatur, Georgia where he currently resides. He is also a puppeteer, and he has worked as a special education teacher in the public schools of Atlanta. Currently, Alan works as a writing tutor at Georgia State University Perimeter College, Clarkston Campus. His work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, The Lyric, and The Jewish Literary Journal.

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23 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    This is the loveliest sonnet that I have read in quite some time. I have had the pleasure of planting three little orchards in my adult life so far, and your poem sums up the undertaking so well: the relatively small investment on our part, followed eventually by an openhanded, loyal, and grateful return from the thriving tree. Thank you so much, Alan, for reminding me of the beauty of the whole process through your well-written poem.

    • C.B. Anderson

      The only flaw in the process that I can detect, Amy, is that he neglected to water it in.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Unless the rain is torrential, a root ball still needs to be watered in. But if it were raining that hard, that would not be a good time to dig a hole. In line two, I’m sure he meant “soil amendments,” not “soil amender.” In any event, current doctrine regarding the planting of trees is that it’s best not to enrich the planting hole too much, because that will discourage the roots from leaving the amended pocket and engaging with the native soil. Think about it: when has a seedling from a mother/father tree in the woods ever needed enrichment other than that provided naturally from the litter on the forest floor? The slick sides of a dug hole are an impediment to root expansion, especially when the amended soil within the hole is so rich that the roots have no pressing need to travel farther, but as the tree grows, this will become a problem in the future. I, too, have farmed in Arizona, and I know that imported plants need special attention there, mostly because of general aridity and soils that are more hospitable to cactus, succulents and dry-land grasses.

      • Joseph Tessitore

        I’ve always thought (kind of intuitively?) that when you dig the hole, you should save the native soil and mix it in with the good stuff from Home Depot, I guess for the same effect.

      • Amy Foreman

        I planted my first two little orchards in Missouri, five miles from the Mississippi River, and added no amendment to the holes, yet the trees did very well.

        The orchard holes I prepared in our new homestead in Arizona got lots of attention! We dug them very wide and very deep and threw old, rotting stumps in the bottom, along with chicken manure, ashes, mesquite chips, and any other rotting organic matter we could scrape together, mixed with liberal scoops of our extremely alkaline desert soil. A few years and some drip irrigation into the project, all the dirt around the trees is dark and loamy, and the trees are healthy. Took quite a bit more care than the trees in the Midwest, but our Arizona peaches are the best I’ve ever tasted!

      • C.B. Anderson

        Yes, Joe, you’ve got that right, so long as the mixture isn’t so good that the roots refuse to grow beyond it into the unamended native soil.

        And, Amy, it looks like you have learned to deal with alkaline soil. Like your peaches, the best watermelon I ever tasted was one I grew in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains near Tucson, Arizona. Basically, sunshine = sugar.

    • Alan Sugar

      Thank you, Amy Foreman. It means so much to me that my simple little poem has brought up, for you, such richness of your own life’s experience. Well, for me, it’s sort of like returning to that same sheltering tree.

      • Peyton Evans

        Alan: Your poem is absolutely beautiful. I love the practical description of planting, removing the burlap, followed by waiting. And then a spiritual reward at the end. I am an admirer of yours as I know about you from my dear friend Susan Sugar. I’m so glad to have had this poem shared with me — I will treasure it.

  2. Lu Shan

    Thank you. This poem expresses peacefulness. Patience is peaceful. The ordeals we have are so insignificant that merely taking shade under this tree that is planted in the poem is enough to soothe us. I appreciate this and other poems for upholding that traditional spirit.

  3. David Paul Behrens

    I enjoyed this poem very much. I have often thought of trees to be the pillars of our existence here on earth. Twenty years ago, my wife planted an orange tree in our front yard. So now, every year around late November, we receive thirty to forty juicy oranges from that single tree, for ourselves and our neighbors to enjoy.

    Speaking of trees, here is a poem I wrote about ten years ago:


    Flowers lean up towards the sun
    And the earth soaks up the rain.
    Sun shines down ’til day is done
    And feels no need to explain.

    Redwoods rise up to the sky,
    Nourished by water and air,
    Without need to wonder why
    Or ponder why they are there.

  4. Martin Rizley

    Thank you for posting this lovely poem, which unfolds, like the tree, with grace and beauty.

  5. Wilbur Dee Case

    Many things distinguish Mr. Sugar’s “How To Plant a Tree”, among them:

    1. the quiet imperative mood of the first quatrain;

    2. the monosyllabic rhymes;

    3. the simple diction;

    4. the plausible completed future;

    5. the “peaceful”, albeit tinged with melancholy, sestet.

    Continuing, some of the striking verbal techniques include:

    6. unexpected verbal structures, like “amender”, “branches long”, and “you’ll find there shade”;

    7. effective alliteration, as in the first quatrain;

    8. second person singular, “for you, alone”;

    9. assonance, like “remain”, “stay” and “wait”;

    10, and striking imagery, like “against the sky”.

    One of the techniques that particularly appeals to me (though I have been mocked for its usage) are the many periods, commas and dashes; which I feel slows the reading down for greater meditation, as in the work of Dickinson.

    I am having a difficult time trying to place this sonnet in the canon of English poetry. It is like a miniature excerpt from Vergil’s “Geogics”; but what English language poet is so sentimental, and at the same time matter-of-fact, so contemplative, and yet so clear? There is a childlike simplicity to the poem, but I am not reminded of Wordsworth, nor really any of the Romantics. It is the kind of poem I would never write, nor would want to; and yet it possesses an extraordinary haunting quality that I need to be reminded of because of its heart-felt stance. It is another example that shows there are many possibilities awaiting cultivation in English poetry.

  6. Wilbur Dee Case

    1. First off, the main reason I try to understand the poetic techniques of others is that it improves my own writing. As Mr. MacKenzie once wrote, the best poets are the best readers, which is one reason why I admire Mr. Stone, despite Mr. Burch’s curt besmirch.

    2. Though I must reject them for their historical associations, Ms. Foreman’s two-word phrase for the transparent quality of Mr. Sugar’s “How to Plant a Tree” does bring up some interesting tangents:

    a. Metaphysical—the term Samuel Johnson applied to poets, like Donne; and

    b. Pragmatism—the American philosophical school that included writers, like William James and Charles Sanders Peirce, and I suppose the most transcendental, Josiah Royce.

    3. Mr. Sugar is not a philosopher in the sense that Santayana was, nor does his work follow Lucretius, Dante, or Goethe, three philosophical poets Santayana wrote about.

    4. The quality of the language in “How To Plant a Tree” reminds me more of this author’s “Ancient Melodies”, which, at the suggestion of Mr. Baisthakur, led me to locate it near late 19th century Victorian (not American) verse impulse, or Mr. MacKenzie’s transposition d’ art “On a Bodegón of Zurbarán”. I suspect all of us are, in such cases, picking up merely one of the countless waves of English literature, and surfing in the afterglow of Thomas Gray’s “Elegy” or El Siglo de Oro.

  7. David Watt

    A lovely sonnet which captures the soothing and contemplative process of planting a tree. More than this, you demonstrate that we gain more in life through simple, generous acts of faith.
    I’d say we have a similar climate here to Arizona. After planting, ensuring a regular supply of water, even for Australian native plants, is the primary concern.

  8. David Hollywood

    A very lovely poem through which to appreciate our efforts in the garden. Many thanks.

  9. Jacoby Crane

    Mr. Sugar, could you please contact The Dirigible Balloon at your earliest convenience? They’re trying to thank you for your wonderful poems, but all attempts at replying to your emails keep bouncing back, so an alternative email or contact method would be appreciated. All the best, JC.


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