Tree Selection for Your Landscape

Plant the right tree in the right place is a common mantra in the tree care industry.  However, how does a homeowner actually go about tree selection and why is it important anyway? Giving thought to the type of tree you’re planting and where it will live will ultimately make life easier for you — and your tree!  Selecting a tree that will thrive in the conditions where you are planting means that tree will be healthier and easier to maintain.

plant nursery with trees

The First Step in Tree Selection

Before even stepping foot in a nursey, first consider why you are planting a tree.  Are you looking for shade?  Need privacy or a border? Want to improve the property’s appearance?  These types of questions will help guide your decision on what best suits your needs.  For example, maybe you’re looking to add winter interest to your landscape.  In this case, you’ll want to choose species that are evergreen or those that have unique bark or an interesting branching pattern.

Important Tree Considerations

One of the primary considerations is making sure your tree will fit in the available growing space, now and at maturity.  Inadequate space is a common issue for trees in landscapes.  A tree that began small may grow to encroach on a home with branches overhanging the roof.  Further, don’t forget about the space needed for root growth underground.  Roots from trees growing too close to sidewalks, driveways or structures can damage a building foundation, block pipes or crack pavement.  If there are power lines, large trees may pose a hazard or result in outages.  With this in mind, be sure to know the shape, height and canopy spread at maturity of the species you want to plant.

Beyond size, it’s important to understand the characteristics of the tree.  Some property owners select fast-growing trees to establish shade quickly.  Unfortunately, these trees often have weaker wood and shorter lifespans.  One such tree is silver maple.  Its known for having weak limbs that are prone to breakage in storms.  Here, the tradeoff for quick growth may be a tree that requires more maintenance and pruning over its lifetime.

Keep in mind as well that native trees are adapted to thrive in their home range.  Generally, these species will be a better choice and require less maintenance.

Important Site Considerations

Most people have heard of hardiness zones and know they should select plants for their zone that are adaptable to their climate.  However, there is way more to it!  Every property had different growing conditions even within the same zone.  For one thing, availability of sunlight plays a role.  Most trees require full sun though some will tolerate other conditions.  Therefore, if you’re planting in a shady spot, you’ll have limited options.  Shade-tolerant choices include beech, hornbeam, hemlock and some maples.

In addition, soil composition and conditions are critical.  Nearly all trees grow well under optimal conditions with consistently moist, well-drained soil.  Generally, though, these conditions are not found in urban and suburban planting spaces.  The texture, drainage, pH level and availability of nutrients all play a major role in a plant’s ability to survive.  Sometimes, when these issues are present, it may be relatively easy to address.  At other times, there are species that will never thrive in certain soil conditions.  Through soil analysis, you can gain insight into the conditions of a specific planting site.  Then, for example, you can know if you need to select trees that tolerate poorly drained sites or that meet some other specifications.

Finally, an understanding of local insects and diseases can help you make an informed decision in tree selection.  Some species are more tolerant than others.  Know that in geographies where emerald ash borer is present, planting ash trees will not be a good choice.  If you’re looking to use trees as a privacy screen, but know hemlock woolly adelgid is a problem then consider an alternative like Eastern redcedar.

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