Advice for Picking the Perfect Tree

Properly Chosen and Sited, Trees Add Pleasure and Value to Your Home

Most people have a function in mind when they want to add trees to their yard, and the best trees for them are the ones that fulfill that function.

Q: What are the best trees to plant in the home landscape? We recently bought a newly constructed house on a large lot in an upscale subdivision, but it’s pretty wide open with just a couple of pine trees. Also, are there any tips on how to plant a tree?

Good for you! Trees enhance property both aesthetically and financially, so they’re a smart addition to your yard. Proper planning and planting will give you years to enjoy your trees and help you avoid problems that can cost additional time, labor and money. They can also help reduce your energy bill. In the South, trees planted on the west and northwest sides of houses have the most impact on your energy consumption.
First, you need to check to make sure there aren’t any restrictive covenants on your property or in your neighborhood that would limit your choices. Those should have been spelled out when you closed on your home purchase, but check your paperwork.

The next step is to figure out why you want trees. Seriously. Most people have a function in mind when they want to add trees to their yard, and the best trees for them are the ones that fulfill that function. Do you want shade for the house? Would you like a privacy screen from the neighbors’ view? Do you want to provide a haven for wildlife? Do you envision trees that bear fruit as well as provide visual interest? Once you know why you want trees, and you’re not limited to just one answer, you’re better prepared to select and site your trees.

If you want a screen, you’ll probably want evergreen trees. While some people like the look of a double row of the same kind of tree, you’re better off planting a variety of trees within your screen. If a tree is hit with a disease and you have all the same kind of trees grouped together, the likelihood of that disease spreading is high. If you mix things up, you’ll get a mix of disease resistance and that will help contain any problems. Plus, a mixed screen is visually interesting.

Do you want to shade your family room in summer but let in the light and warmth in winter? Then you want a deciduous tree, or one that sheds its leaves. But you need to make sure you plant that tree far enough from the house and nearby power lines that it has room to reach its full height and width. Otherwise, you’ll be sawing off limbs to keep the tree in its place, ruining the look of the tree and your serenity. The “right plant, right place” axiom of gardening applies especially to trees. If you plant a tree in the wrong place, it likely won’t thrive and could eventually have to be removed. Place trees well away from paved areas such as driveways, sidewalks and patios. Tree roots will extend well past the tree canopy, so make sure those roots have enough room to support the tree.

When you plant your tree, make sure you don’t plant it too deeply. Dig the hole twice as wide as the root-ball and almost as deep. Set the tree in the planting hole so that it’s just a bit higher than the surrounding soil. It will settle. Create a basin around it to hold water so it can soak directly into the root zone. You’re going to have to water it regularly to get it established. That means every day for at least two or three months, maybe longer, and two or three times a week for the rest of the first year. Also, you need to make sure that the soil around the root ball is loose and crumbly, so oxygen can get to the roots through the tiny air pockets in the soil.

“Water and oxygen are the two major limiting factors,” said Stan Rosenthal, Leon County forester. “You have to water that root-ball regularly so it can do enough photosynthesis to feed itself. And for the tree’s root system to use the energy produced by photosynthesis, it has to be able to carry on respiration, which requires oxygen.”

I recommend starting with native trees, because they’re proven to succeed in our climate if properly sited and planted. Some of the most popular small trees that are either native or have acclimated to North Florida are redbud (Cercis canadensis), Southern wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). Dogwood (Cornus Florida) does well as an understory tree, meaning it should be planted in the shade of a larger tree. There are new varieties of dogwood that have been developed by the University of Florida that can tolerate our extremes of heat and humidity.

For large trees, take a look at American holly (Ilex opaca), Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), live oak (Quercus virginiana), Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii), river birch (Betula nigra), red maple (Acer rubrum), tulip tree, also known as yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

Gardening Calendar for September & October
» September 7: “Orchids,” noon–1 p.m., Carriage House at Goodwood Museum and Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. The program, featuring speaker Harriet Wright, kicks off the 2012–2013 First Friday Brown Bag Lecture Series. Free. Bring your lunch.

» September 20: Free Monthly Plant Exchange and Horticulture Program, Tallahassee Garden Club, 9:30–11 a.m. Free plants, as well as ergonomic garden tools, pecans and garden gloves for sale, followed by a program on “Honey Bees and Honey Tasting.”

» October 3: Sixth Annual Plantaholic Preview Party and Silent and Live Auctions, 6–9:30 p.m., University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy. Sponsored by Gardening Friends of the Big Bend. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. Email Jill Williams at b419@aol.com for tickets.

» October 5: First Friday Brown Bag Lecture Series presents “Tree Diversity in the Landscape” with Stan Rosenthal, Leon County Forester, noon–1 p.m., Jubilee Cottage at Goodwood Museum and Gardens. Free. Bring your lunch.

» October 6: Gardening Friends of the Big Bend Annual Fall Plant Sale, 8:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., University of Florida’s North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy.

» October 18: Free Monthly Plant Exchange and Horticulture Program, Tallahassee Garden Club, 9:30–11 a.m., and Free Evening Plant Exchange, 5:15–6 p.m. Plant exchanges feature free plants as well as ergonomic garden tools, pecans and garden gloves for sale. The morning plant exchange will be followed by a program on “Container Planting for Cool Weather.”

» October 27: Goodwood Fall Plant Sale, 9 a.m.–1 p.m., rain or shine, Virginia McKee Greenhouse at Goodwood Museum and Gardens. Sale features hundreds of heirloom perennials and annuals, winter vegetables and herbs, shrubs and groundcovers. No admission.

© 2012 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com or visit her website at msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.

Categories: Landscaping