Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Three important things to consider when choosing a tree

Questions to ask before selecting a tree


This spring, you want to plant a tree. What things should you consider when choosing the species that you plant? Here are three important considerations.

1. How much space do you have for the tree?

The very first thing you should do is go out in your yard and determine the space you want the tree to occupy. Pound a stake into the ground at the proposed planting site to represent the tree's trunk. Tie a long string to it to represent the longest branches on the tree.

Walk the string all the way around the stake. Can you make a 20-foot circle (using a 10-foot string) without obstructions? Then you have enough room for a tree with a 20-foot crown. Can you make a 100-foot circle (using a 50-foot string)? Then you have enough room for a tree with a 100-foot crown.

Trees can be planted so that their branches intermingle, but for a tree to fully develop the distinctive shape that is typical of its species, it needs at least the space described above.

When you know how much room you have for the tree's crown, a little research will reveal trees that are the right size for the space.

2. What do you want the tree to do?

Do you want the tree to screen a view? How much shade do you want the tree to provide? Do you want the tree to provide wind protection or function as a sound barrier? Do you want it to provide bright color or interesting leaves? Are you interested in attracting wildlife?

Questions like these coupled with a little research will help you identify the best tree for you while eliminating others from the list of trees that you could plant.

3. How much care are you willing to give the tree?

Are you willing to spray your tree faithfully? If not, you should avoid species that are prone to diseases and pests. Will you have the devotion and the water to care for a moisture-loving tree in times of drought?

How do you feel about cleaning up broken branches after storms? Some of the fastest-growing trees have brittle branches that break easily. Do you mind raking leaves? Many trees that provide dense shade have lots of leaves that fall every year.

Is the tree going to send up suckers in your flower beds and the neighbor's yard? Will it seed itself profusely? Will you have the time and energy to keep suckers and seedlings under control?

If you're purchasing your tree from a nursery, the nursery staff should be able to describe any special care requirements or problems that a tree might have. Your local extension office probably has a horticulturist or arborist who can advise you. Your city may have an urban forester who can describe care requirements of the trees you are considering.

In addition, make use of the free resources your public library and the internet offer. Many excellent reference books are available. Many excellent extension service documents about trees are available online.

A single word sums up this entire post: research. Don't buy the first tree you see. Don't base your decision on the little bit of information that is provided on the tree's price tag. Do some research and make an informed choice based on your unique situation.

2 comments -- please add yours:

winecountrydog said...

G, this is an arfully nice post.

I blogrolled your tree notes some months back and don't visit enuff. You know how we dogs get distracted by stuff. I've gotta come here and sniff these trees more often. They're beeyouteeful. ^..^ ~ Tilin

Genevieve said...

Tilin, it's always an honor whenever you visit.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com