Tree Selection for Your Yard

Dennis Zerwas, Jr., Extension Master Gardener, Anoka County

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When it comes to selecting what tree to plant in your landscape, the simple advice of “plant the right tree, in the right spot" can save years of additional maintenance, frustration, and disappointment. Here are some key factors to consider for the upcoming tree planting season.

The first factor to consider when deciding what tree you should add to your yard is: “What do you want the tree to do?” Would you like it to eventually provide shade? Are you looking for something with fruit for yourself or to provide food and shelter for wildlife? Would you like it to create a screen or barrier? Would you like it to provide visual interest through the winter months? Are you looking for something that flowers early in the spring?

The second aspect to consider is: “How much space do you have to work with?” Are there any existing structures like power lines and other trees to consider above ground? Will it be planted near a driveway or sidewalk? Keep in mind that as shade trees grow larger, so do their roots. Some varieties of maple and lindens are known to develop surface roots as they mature. These can heave sidewalks and driveways over time if planted too close to these structures.

After considering these two factors, you should have a general idea of what type and size of tree will best suit your needs. For example, if you’re looking for a tree to provide shade and you have ample space, then a shade tree such as a hackberry is a good fit. A bird lover with a small space near a new patio and walkway? An ornamental tree with small, winter-persistent fruit such as a showy mountain ash or red splendor crabapple would work. For the smallest of sites, a dwarf ornamental tree variety like a hydrangea tree or a dwarf ornamental evergreen may be your best option.

Now comes the two most critical factors to consider when selecting what tree to plant: “What are the planting site soil conditions?” and “What is the exposure of the site?” Your absolute best way to take the mystery out of what’s under your feet is to have a soil test done. The wealth of information you receive from the results of a soil test can save you precious time and money. More information on soil tests can be found at http://soiltest.cfans.umn.edu . When considering the exposure of the site, be sure to gauge the amount of daily sunlight, but also its exposure to prevailing winds.

If you’re planting multiple trees, diversify. Instead of planting four maples, why not consider a mix of maple, swamp white oak, Kentucky coffee tree and a ginkgo? A diverse mix of trees in your landscape will make your yard stronger against the next devastating pathogen or pest threat.

By thinking about these factors ahead of time, you will be better prepared for selecting and planting that perfect tree to enjoy for decades to come. Happy planting!