How to choose a tree for your yard and area

So you want to plant a tree, huh? There are several questions to consider before you dig the hole.

Some of these questions you should ask yourself are; What do I want the tree to do for me? Or what do I want out of the tree? Do you want shade? Do you want privacy? Or just a beautiful tree to accent your yard? These questions will help you narrow down what type of tree will fit to your needs and wants.

The very next thing to consider is your soil. Only a small number of trees will thrive and grow in just about any soil type. Most trees require specific soil types and conditions to grow well and be healthy. If you are unsure of what your soil is like (type, pH, and nutrient content), have it tested. The test is simple and very inexpensive at a local agricultural university. Knowing your soil will determine what trees you can plant. For example, here in the Red River Valley of northwestern Minnesota and eastern North Dakota, the soil pH is very alkaline (7.5 up to 8.5) and is also easily compacted. If you were to plant a Pin oak it would suffer and probably not live a long. No other factors would have caused the decline of that tree, it would be the soil. Pin oaks (and many others) like acidic soils so they can easily adsorb and use iron and other micro-nutrients as well having soft, well drained soils that don’t get over saturated. Both things that the soil in our area is not. Therefore, it is very important to know what soil you have before you start looking at what tree you want. This is like fitting a shoe to fit your feet, not putting shoes on your feet that look good, but are the wrong size. You’ll only end up with blisters, back, knee, and hip problems and wore out shoes!

Next, you will want to consider cold hardiness. Every area has a cold hardiness zone based on how cold the root system of a plant can withstand over winter, based on average low temperatures. I consider this after soil because there are trees that will survive our cold in the valley, but will not grow in our soil (e.g. White Pine). Cold hardiness for your area can be found on the internet or by calling your local extension agent. For the red river valley here in Minnesota and North Dakota we are in zone 3. The updated maps say that near the red river of the north its zone 4, but I’m not sure I want to take that chance. It get pretty cold here if you haven’t noticed. And the lack of snow cover some winters makes it worse.

Next, you will want to consider the space in which your tree will grow. It NEVER works out well to plant a tree and try and make it fit to your needs. For example, planting a shade tree and trimming it to stay in a small space or using accent trees planted tightly together to create a screen. Allowing trees to grow into what they are supposed to grow into will incur less problems in the future, plus less work for you. Plant a tree to fit the space in which it will grow.  Do not plant trees that will grow into big tree underneath, or near power lines, they will only get destroyed as they get near the wires and have to be trimmed back. Little trees grow to be big trees!

Another consideration is to keep in mind, if you want flowers, you (usually) will have to have fruit/seeds. The simplest way to put it is; If your trees are going to have sex, they will have offspring. There are a few small crabapple trees that flower and do not fruit, but they also come with higher possibilities of disease and insect problems. Additionally, I always hear complaints about messy trees. I’m not sure what your definition of messy is, because I know everyones definition is different (just ask my wife), but I don’t know a tree that doesn’t shed something. Even spruce and pine trees shed needles and cones. So you will want to consider how much work you will want to do in order to gain the benefits of the tree you are looking at planting.

Finally, you will want to consider how much care you will be able to provide after planting. Generally, trees that grow faster will require more pruning early on in life and are more susceptible to disease and pests when stressed or mature. Whereas, slower growing trees will require less pruning when young, and then very little care when mature if cared for when young. Additionally, non-native trees will be more susceptible to disease and pests versus native trees having very few disease and pest problems. If you know you will not have the time to care for the structure of a fast growing tree, consider a slower growing tree. It could save you a lot of money in the long run. I would hate to have a structural defect, that could have been prevented with a few simple pruning cuts 30 years earlier, destroy my new car or crush my new roof. The more care you can provide when the tree is younger and growing, the less problems and longer lived the tree will likely be.

By answering these simple questions and taking a few steps into consideration, you will end up with a great tree that will thrive in your yard and provide a great deal of benefits. And of course, if you can’t  answer these questions and want help making a decision, you can always contact me and I’ll be glad to point you in the right direction:)