Helpful hints for picking the best trees to plant in your yard.
By Ann Weid
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago—the second best time is now.”
There’s a lot of truth in that old saying, so long as you choose the right tree. After all, trees don’t just add beauty to the landscape. Planted wisely, the right varieties can also cut utility bills, attract wildlife and give shady respite from the hot summer sun. That graceful weeping willow or fragrant flowering crab apple may be tempting, but think it through before buying. The wrong tree for your space or lifestyle can be a nuisance at best and a hazard at worst. You’ll want to consider:
Location. This can mean the difference between having the tree for many years or just a few. Know your area’s hardiness zone and choose a tree accordingly. Also, some varieties require full sun; others prefer alf-shade. Some tolerate wet sites; others need well-drained soil.
Height. Tall species need space, and lots of it. Planted too close to a house, these trees can eventually loosen roofs or clog gutters. Watch out, too, for electrical wires. Smaller species, those that stand 15 feet or less at maturity, are better for small areas or near electrical lines.
Form. Will the mature tree be upright, round or spreading? Upright species like the emerald arborvitae work well in tight quarters, while spreading ones like the horsechestnut need wide-open areas.
Year-Round Interest. Spring blossoms and fall color are big selling points for trees, but they don’t last long. Consider one with year-round interest—distinctive berries, bark or leaf shape.
Growth Rate. Fast growth seems like a no-brainer. Who wants to wait 20 years to enjoy a tree? But the downside of fast growth can be high maintenance—messy fruits, shallow root systems, or weak wood that breaks easily. Some trees are worth the wait!
Resistance. Disease or insect infestations can defoliate, weaken or kill trees—think of Dutch elm disease and the emerald ash borer. Look for newer tree varieties developed for disease and insect resistance. Or choose a tree that’s similar to the species you wanted but less susceptible to problems. Next, learn more about specific species. The Arbor Day Foundation has a handy tree guide, at arborday.org/trees/treeguide, that lets you search by name or characteristics to find your perfect tree. Then you’ll be set to visit a reputable nursery or garden center, get professional advice and start shopping for a healthy tree you can plant and enjoy for years to come.