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Guide on How to Choose A Tree to Plant: Planning & Selecting

September 23, 2021
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Choosing a tree to plant for your yard is such an exciting decision.

You want to pick the perfect tree for your situation. Maybe you’re looking for shade. You might want flowers or leaves of a certain color to coordinate with the rest of your landscaping. Or maybe you want a centerpiece or a focal point.

While trees are a great addition to your landscape, not all trees are equally well-suited for every space.

Selecting a tree to plant must be done carefully so the tree is happy in its new home -- with all the right conditions it prefers -- benefiting the tree, as well as you for years to come.

Picking a Tree for Your Yard: Things to Consider

You might think selecting a tree to plant is pretty easy. Just pick the one with the leaves or flowers you like and it’ll be fine. But you actually have quite a few things to think about to ensure your planting is successful. No one wants to invest in a new tree only to have it fail. Choosing the right tree to match your site conditions is the key to lower maintenance, better results, and tree longevity.

Consider these key areas when picking a tree for your yard. And, remember, if you’re in doubt, your local arborist can help you select the right tree based on your landscape conditions and what function you want the tree to provide.

Function - There are so many different types of trees, and they can provide so many functions and benefits. A healthy tree increases property values. Shade trees cool homes in the summer. Evergreens provide windbreaks and privacy screens. And all trees reduce stormwater runoff, filter pollutants, add oxygen to your environment, provide food and shelter for wildlife, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Size - You have to choose a tree not based on how big it looks when you’re planting it, but by how tall and wide it will get once it reaches maturity. If you plant a tree too close to a home, and it grows quite large, you could be threatening your home’s foundation. Trees that grow too large may block front doors or uproot sidewalks. To best prepare for tree size, look at the space and assess how close it is to your home’s roofline and whether there are overhead power lines. Then use those considerations when choosing a tree.

Form - Selecting the proper tree form to complement your space can help reduce maintenance costs and boost the tree’s value. What’s more, the right tree planting can better meet your specific needs in the landscape. Select trees that won't reach utility line height at maturity, for example, while tall, narrow evergreens may be best to provide a privacy screen. Consider form when planting as well to ensure you give trees enough space to grow; planting trees too close together may limit available light and cause long-term health issues.

Climate - Each tree species prefers a specific amount of light, moisture, wind, and temperature ranges. A tree grows stronger and has more vitality when growing in its ideal conditions. If a tree is regularly subjected to conditions it doesn’t like, its vitality can decline. This weakens the tree, leaving it susceptible to pest and disease threats. Choosing a tree based on its USDA hardiness zone recommendations can help ensure your tree choice matches your climate.

Soil Type - The soil your tree grows in is extremely important, this is where it will draw water and nutrient requirements. The soil provides nutrients to the plant. A good soil structure can ensure the proper development of the tree’s root system. While some tree species can handle more soil moisture than others, many trees do not like wet feet, so you never want to plant a tree where the roots may remain wet for long periods of time. Adequate drainage for oxygen availability is important for maintaining overall health. Your goal here is to either choose a tree that fits the soil at your planting site or improve the planting site to a degree that your selected tree variety will thrive. Improvements might be reducing compaction or adding organic matter.

Care/Maintenance - Every tree requires proper care, especially in its early stages of development. At a minimum, you will have to ensure it receives adequate water, nutrients, and proper pruning practices. A tree planting located in conditions that meet its needs will require less overall maintenance.

Now let’s look at some tips on how to select a tree to plant-based on your specific requirements.

Best Trees to Plant For Blocking Wind

Windbreaks are ideal for boosting your home’s energy efficiency.

For the best impact, plant them on the north and northwest sides of your home where it gets coldest in the winter. Remember not to plant your trees too close together. When you have the appropriate spacing, this will decrease the amount of wind to your home.

Some ideal tree planting choices: Eastern red cedar and Chinese juniper.

Best Trees to Plant For Privacy

Sometimes you want to go outside and talk to the neighbors and other times you just want peace and quiet in your backyard.

Planting trees for privacy is a great way to get some fresh greenery in your space and get that seclusion you crave.

Some great choices: Eastern white pine, Green giant arborvitae, Leyland cypress, and Areca palm.

Best Trees to Plant For Shade

That sun can get hot during the summer, and trees provide the perfect shade, cooling things down. In fact, shade on the roof and windows of your home from trees can reduce summertime air conditioning costs by up to 35%. Outside, trees can cool the air from 2 degrees to 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

A few of the shade trees we like for tree planting include: Tulip poplar, River or Paper birch, Maples, and Oaks.

Best Trees to Plant For Hillsides or Slopes

Hillsides and slopes have a disadvantage when it rains: it can cause soil to erode.

Planting trees and shrubs helps control this erosion. Tree planting helps control the level of rainfall that reaches the soil and those tree roots help reduce the amount of soil that washes away. But you have to choose the right ones for your area.

Some suggestions: Douglas fir, Monterey pine, Eastern Red Cedar, and Spruce.

Best Trees to Plant For Drought

When summer brings the dry heat, your trees need to be able to adapt. Understanding climate extremes is how you can choose a tree that can best grow in that environment.

There are also a lot of great ways you can keep your trees healthy during a drought -- from watering deeply but infrequently, proper mulching, and using the right fertilizer. Always avoiding heavy pruning, and keep these tips in mind for preserving tree health during summer’s toughest heat.

Best Trees to Plant For Small Spaces

Small spaces deserve trees as much as larger ones. When picking a tree for your yard, you just have to think about its mature size so you don’t plant something that grows too big for the space.

Trees that do well in smaller spaces include:

  • American hornbeam
  • Japanese maple
  • ‘Twisted Growth’ deodar cedar
  • Windmill palm
  • Kousa dogwood
  • Cornelian cherry dogwood
  • Crape myrtle
  • Henry anise
  • Lollipop crabapple
  • Blackhaw viburnum
  • Hibiscus syriacus
  • ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple
  • Weeping redbud
  • Pygmy date palm

Best Trees to Plant Near a Driveway

When you’re planting a tree near your driveway, you want to choose one that doesn’t have invasive or aggressive roots. You also don’t want a tree that drops leaves, fruits, nuts, seedpods or cones.

While there are trees to avoid near a driveway, there are also some great choices.

Try one of these: River birch, American beech, paper birch, Japanese lilac tree, hybrid willow, Leyland cypress, Rocky Mountain juniper, Italian cypress, ‘Emerald Green’ arborvitae, and Eastern red cedar.

Best Trees to Use Near a House

Widespread, invasive roots are also not great for selecting a tree to plant near a house. Doing your research to understand a tree’s root-growing habit can help you make the best selection.

Some of our favorites: crabapple, American hornbeam, Cornelian-cherry dogwood, Japanese maple, Flowering dogwood, and American holly.

Best Trees to Plant Near a Septic Tank

Tree planting around a septic tank is possible you just have to choose the right trees.

You’re looking for trees that have soft, green stems and are well-adapted to your local region’s rainfall, like one of these varieties:

  • Hemlock
  • White pine
  • Dogwood
  • Ornamental cherries
  • American holly
  • Needle palm
  • Pygmy date palm

Benefits of Planting Native Trees

When you’re in doubt about how to choose a tree to plant, remember that native trees are always great options.

Not only have they proven tolerance to local soil and weather conditions, but native trees typically need less maintenance over time. Why? because they are better adapted to local climate extremes.

Natives also support biodiversity and local wildlife by providing food and shelter

Try one of these reliable region-specific native plants:

Northeast

  • Red mulberry
  • Striped maple
  • Serviceberry
  • American hornbeam
  • Eastern red cedar

Northwest

  • Pacific dogwood
  • Bigleaf maple
  • Douglas fir
  • Western white pine
  • Red alder
  • Oregon crabapple

Southeast

  • Dogwood
  • American sycamore
  • Red Maple
  • Live oak
  • Loblolly pine
  • Southern magnolia

Southwest

  • Western redbud
  • California black walnut
  • Bald cypress
  • American smoke tree
  • Western soapberry
  • Black cherry

Midwest

  • Eastern white pine
  • Ohio buckeye
  • Kentucky coffeetree
  • Boxelder
  • Black gum

NOW THAT YOU’VE CHOSEN YOUR PERFECT TREE, IT’S TIME TO PLANT IT PROPERLY. USE THIS STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE.

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