Selecting the Right Tree


Choosing the right tree for the right place is critical to avoiding long term problems. First,  clarify your basic objectives.  Then, seek out sound information about the trees you are considering. Choose your tree wisely and plan accordingly.

Here are some tips to get you on the right path:

  1. Most importantly, determine the ultimate size and shape that fits your planting site.  Some trees are upright, conical or spreading. A spreading tree along a property line may encroach into the neighbor’s yard. A conical shape tree may conflict with the overhead utility wires. Look for several mature species in your area for comparisons. When planting the young tree, be sure to allow enough space for it to reach its desire mature size and to avoid unnecessary pruning.
  2. Decide whether you desire an evergreen or deciduous tree (loses its leaves in the winter). Choosing to plant a deciduous tree with its mature canopy near the house, will allow for winter sun and summer shade at the selected site and can provide improved climate control for your home. Note where the sun moves across your property at different times of the year.
  3. What are the water needs of this tree? Is it compatible with other landscape features within its eventual root zone?  (e.g.: native oaks and some other species do not like year round irrigation.)
  4. Consider leaf color, texture, shape, flowering and fruiting habit of the desired tree.  All trees shed, however some species are messier than others.  Leaf litter can provide needed mulch for your garden or can become a high maintenance nuisance depending on the situation. Sunset Western Garden Book can be a good resource for some of this information.
  5. The majority of most root systems are in the upper 18 inches of soil. Surface roots can be a problem between neighbors or in your own landscape. Ask a qualified professional for information on the rooting habit of your selection. Will the growing roots crack or lift your paving or hardscape materials? Root barriers installed during planting can often reduce problems.
  6. Are there any common pests, diseases or structural weaknesses of this tree species?  Certain species are highly susceptible to annual leaf blight or defoliating pests.  These species generally look sick throughout the year. Others trees have common structural weaknesses that frequently result in branch splitting. Some varieties of a tree species are developed without the negative characteristics of the tree you desire, such as fruitless varieties, e.g., olive and plum.
  7. Have you observed unusually small or discolored leaves on plants in the chosen site? Soil problems often damage or restrict the growth of trees. A field inspection or a soil sample collected by a qualified professional and analyzed at a laboratory may reveal correctable or limiting conditions that can guide you towards a better tree selection.
  8. Do your homework; ask questions. Look for tree species in your area that fit your needs and appear to be thriving. Take photos and ask a nursery or tree professional for proper identification. Educate yourself and avoid problems for yourself and your neighbors.

For a list of my favorite trees, click here.

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