Trees can be the best addition you’ll ever make to your yard, but choose wisely, plant carefully and don’t forget to prune.
When shopping, think about why you want trees. Is it for shade? For pretty color in spring or fall? To block out neighbors or noise? Your answer will help narrow your choices. Next, know your zone. You can find a map of plant hardiness zones on the United States Department of Agriculture website. If buying from a local garden center, it should carry only specimens that do well in your climate, but it never hurts to double check. After all, trees are an expensive investment.
Fall foliage and more
For year-round color, consider both deciduous trees — such as oaks, elms, maples, birches and ginkgos — that provide gorgeous fall color before dropping their leaves, and evergreens, which as the name suggests will give you greenery all year long. And to enhance your beds, you really can’t go wrong with a Japanese maple. Varieties range in height from 3 feet to 20 feet tall at maturity and they offer rich colors and interesting shapes.
If it’s shade you need, start with some fast growers such as red maples or tulip trees (so named because their flowers resemble tulips). Both can grow more than two feet in a year. And then there are hybrid poplars, which can grow up to eight feet in one year. At the same time, you should also plant some slower-growing shade trees. They will live longer and develop deeper roots and stronger branches, meaning they are less likely to break in wind and snow storms. Slow-growing types can also be more drought resistant.
Deciduous trees will give you shade in summer and allow sunlight to filter through in winter. Evergreens will provide continuous shade. Plant deciduous trees with high, spreading branches on the south side of your home to shade your roof. Plant trees with branches lower to the ground on the west side and you’ll be shaded from the lower angle of the sun in the afternoon.
Of course, you’ll also want to consider the height and span of each tree at maturity, and its root system. For instance, poplars have deep roots, so don’t plant them too close to your house, sidewalk or, if you have one, septic tank.
Another consideration: utility lines. Pick a tree that won’t interfere with the lines. Good choices include crape myrtles, dogwoods and redbuds.
Wind resistant trees
In areas prone to hurricanes and strong storms, look for a variety that are wind resistant. The list includes live oaks, southern magnolias, bald cypresses and longleaf pines. Each has deep lateral and tap roots and strong trunks. Smaller trees that do well against the wind include dogwoods, American hollies, yaupons and crape myrtles.
Other trees act as good windbreaks. Specimens to consider are Eastern red cedars, Chinese juniper and white pines. If planting trees as windbreaks, place them on the north and northwest sides of your home where it gets cold in the winter, and space them far enough apart to allow for growth.
When to plant
Always plant trees when they’re dormant — in the fall after they’ve dropped leaves or in early spring before they bud. Planting when the weather is cool lets the trees establish roots before spring rains and summer heat.
When to prune
If your trees bloom in summer, prune in winter when they are fully dormant. Prune spring-blooming trees immediately after they bloom. Never prune just for the sake of pruning. A good pruning is meant to remove dead branches, improve a tree’s shape, allow light and air to penetrate and to remove any branches that may pose a danger to your home.