TREE BASICS & HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TREE FOR YOUR YARD
Updated: Apr 20
Have you always wanted to plant a tree in your yard, but find it confusing and intimidating? So many choices, where do you start? And, have you seen the price of some trees? It can be quite an investment and feel like a long term commitment and let us be honest, who doesn't have a little bit of commitment issues? However, I assure you, with some planning and following the steps below, you can find the right tree for your yard with minimal stress.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF PLANTING A TREE?
1. Trees provide structure and height to you landscape. Due to their size, trees are the backbone to a landscape and the reason why designers begin with trees.
2. Trees have beneficial affects on the environment. They take in carbon monoxide, clean the air and produce oxygen. Trees also prevent erosion of soil and decrease stormwater runoff.
3. Trees are a crucial habitat for wildlife by providing food, shelter, safety from predators and nesting sites.
4. Trees increase the value of your home and make it more attractive to potential buyers. (Cha-ching!)
5. Trees can decrease your heating and cooling costs if strategically placed to block the wind or provide shade on your home. (Cha-ching again!)
6. Planting a tree is an investment in the future and a gift to your children and grandchildren.
7. Trees are beautiful and we all can use some more beauty in our lives. Just stand under a tree and feel its majesty and you know what I am talking about.
WHAT ARE THE BASIC TYPES OF TREES?
By knowing the basic types of trees, it will help to narrow down your tree options and thus make the buying process less stressful. They include:
1. Deciduous. These are the trees that loose their leaves during the winter and are generally of two kinds:
a. Small Ornamental Trees (10 to 30 feet tall)
b. Large Shade Trees (30 t0 100 feet tall)
2. Evergreen. This means the tree stays green all winter and can be 10 to 75 feet tall.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT TREE FOR YOUR YARD
Below are three questions you should answer before you go shopping for a tree. Write down the answers and take them with you. If you are having someone help you pick out the plant, it will greatly aid them in pointing you in the right direction. The problem that most homeowners have is that they just head off to the nursery and figure it out when they get there. They become completely overwhelmed by the choices or simply buy the tree that is in bloom or looks nice to only learn in the coming years that it really wasn't a good choice.
1. What do you want the tree to do for you? What is its main purpose?
Below are some possible purposes. Obviously a tree can serve several purposes, but I suggest you first focus on the most important one. Once you have several options of trees that serve your main purpose, you can choose a tree that provides other benefits.
Provide shade to your home or patio
A large shade tree is usually the best type of tree for this purpose as long as the area can support such a large tree.
Screen out unsightly views or provide privacy
If you want a view blocked all year round, you will have to choose an evergreen tree. Otherwise, all type of trees can serve this purpose depending upon what height is required.
Be a beautiful specimen and add interest to your yard
All trees can serve this purpose, but probably the most popular is the small ornamental trees that bloom in spring such as dogwoods, crabapples, redbuds and magnolias.
Add interest to the front foundation of your home - perhaps at the corner of your house
Due to aesthetic reasons, it is common for foundation plantings to include a taller plant at the corner of the house. However, be sure that the chosen tree will not get too big and encroach on the house. For this reason, usually upright shaped, small ornamental or evergreen trees are the best for this purpose.
Attract and benefit wildlife and pollinators
All types of trees serve this purpose in some way. However, the best way to help wildlife is to plant a native tree. If you have the space, may I suggest you consider the all mighty Oak which supports more moths and butterflies than any other tree.
Provide fall color?
In general, the trees with the best fall color are the large shade trees like maples and birches. However, there are some small ornamental trees that are quite pretty in fall such as dogwoods and the black gum tree.
2. How big is the space you want to plant the tree?
Measure the width of the area and determine how high the tree can be. Buying a tree that gets too large is the biggest mistake homeowners make. The wrong sized tree will end up being a maintenance nightmare and may have to be removed and have you priced out tree removal services lately? Yikes - pricey! So please be like a carpenter: measure twice, so you only need to plant once.
(And by the way, if you are using a landscaper, make sure to check that the tree they are suggesting will not outgrow the space. Many landscapers are only concerned about how the tree looks in the design today and take little consideration into how the tree will look in 5, 10 or even 100 years).
3. Are there any other special circumstances about the location?
Deer? My suggestion (as is always my suggestion - you've seen my tag line right?) is to plant a native tree because they rarely get severe deer damage.
Very wet area?
Close to the street where salt damage may occur?
Near a patio or walkway where, for maintenance purposes, you would not want the tree to shed too much plant material?
EXAMPLES OF BEAUTIFUL NATIVE TREES
Below is a list of common trees native to the United States. Please note that the names listed are only the genus and species with the common name in parentheses. When shopping, each tree should also have a cultivar name listed in single quotation marks after the genus and species. (For example: Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'). Since cultivars can vary in size, please read the tag and make sure the cultivar is the appropriate size for your space.
Small Ornamental Trees:
Chioanthus virginicus (Fringe Tree)
Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood)
Cercis canadensis (Eastern Redbud)
Malus sp. (Flowering Crabapple)
Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia)
Large Shade Trees:
Acer rubrum (Red Maple)
Betula nigra (River Birch)
Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch)
Nyssa sylvatica (Black Gum or Tupelo)
Quercus sp. (Oak)
Ilex opaca (American Holly)
Juniperus virginiana (Red Cedar)
Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine)
Thuja plicata (Western Red Cedar)
Tsuga canadensis (Canadian Hemlock)