When we consider that most trees have much longer lives than we do and that the tree we plant could easily still be here when we are long gone, the apparently simple fun of planting a tree takes on a new dimension. Shade trees and large evergreens can easily live 100 years and most can live two or three times that. Choosing a suitable place that not only satisfies our immediate needs for shade or shelter, but also gives your new tree the best chance of a healthy and long life requires a little thought and planning. So let’s look at some of the key things to consider when choosing a tree and placing it in on your property. Trees not only make your property more beautiful, they add value every year they grow, so they are an investment too.
Matching your Climate
Giving your tree its best chance starts with making good choices. Gardeners are a perverse bunch that delights in growing plants that would be happier in cooler or warmer areas, just for the thrill of success. This can be fun for flowering plants, but for trees it makes a lot more sense to choose a tree well-adapted to your climate. Obviously being in the right growing zone is the first step and there, thinking long-term, it is better if you are in the middle of your trees preferred zone, not at the extremes.
There is more to climate than minimum temperatures, so rainfall is important too. If you live in areas with dry summers then drought-resistance is essential and trees that thrive in warm but damp climates will often not do well in warm and dry climates, or vice-versa. If you already see your tree thriving nearby, that is always a good sign, but with a little research you can also successfully introduce something new to your neighborhood.
What Kind of Tree Do You Want?
A basic choice that has to be made is deciding between a deciduous or evergreen tree. Evergreens give all-year-round shade and privacy, which may be very important to you. Consider though that during the winter, when the sun is low and the days short, you may want the benefits of the greater light deciduous trees let through and if you are not outdoors much anyway, shade and privacy may not be so important at that season. Remember too that if you plant trees to the south of your house they will throw long shadows in winter, while on the north side they will not. That may greatly affect your choices.
Consider the expected final height and width of your tree too. All trees are cute and small when young, but they will grow, often sooner than you realize, into something larger, so as much as a certain tree attracts you, if it will grow eventually to 100 feet tall in your small yard, it may not be the ideal choice. In the same way, the ultimate width of the tree should be considered, and choosing a narrow, upright form may be better than a wide, spreading tree in all but the largest yards.
As well, it is good to have some feature in your tree to give a special high-point to the year. This could be flowering, fall color, winter bark and twigs, or a combination of these things. The most-loved tree is not just green leaves all year round.
What is Your Site Like?
Your tree also has to match the location you are planting in. Sun or shade are important considerations, but remember that many forest trees will grow well in shade when young, rising up into the sun as they grow. Your garden may be shady on the ground, but unless you are surrounded by very tall buildings it is likely that higher up there will be much more light and full sun to let most trees thrive. However if you already have a lot of tree cover, then shade-loving trees like Japanese Maple or Canadian Hemlock may be better choices.
Consider too the properties of your soil. For example heavy clay that is wet in winter and dry in summer is a challenge for some plants, and it is better to choose a tree that is naturally adapted to your soil, rather than try to change your soil to suit the tree. The same is also true of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. This can be modified in the short-term, most easily going from acid to alkaline, but in the long-term soils go back to very much the same as they began.
Low-lying areas often stay damp for long periods, and some trees will not do well, while others will appreciate the extra water. Simply by planting a short distance away you can give your tree a much more suitable spot to grow in. Another solution to poor-drainage is to make a low mound to plant your tree on. The extra drainage that creates can make all the difference, especially when the tree is young and more sensitive. Over time many trees adapt to conditions that are less than perfect, so a good start may be all that is needed.
Allow for the Roots
It is easy to forget the underground parts of your tree, but tree roots can cause problems with drains and even foundations, so make sure your chosen spot is far enough from services so that your tree does not make problems in the future. The first thing to consider is your house. The type of tree you plan to plant will decide how far away it needs to be planted. Poplars, willows and oaks need 50 to 60 feet distance from a building, maples need about 35 feet, while trees like Flowering Pear, Birch or Cypress can safely be planted within 10 or 15 feet of the foundations. Similar distances should be used from septic fields, which can become clogged with roots attracted to the moisture and nutrients.
For sewer and drainage pipes, don’t plant closer than 10 feet. The same applies to other underground services, as well as pools and water features. Not only can you create future problems for your drainage, when pipes need replacing or repairing, the trenching and digging can damage the tree, so allowing some distance is best for everyone.
Driveways and paths can be cracked and lifted by tree roots too. For smaller trees – less than 30 feet tall – plant at least 4 feet from a driveway. For larger trees allow 8 feet or more, to avoid future damage.
Respect Thy Neighbor
Another consideration is your property line. Always plant your trees well inside your own property, allowing 3 to 6 feet for screens and hedges, and more for larger trees. Not only will your neighbor appreciate being considered, but generally anything growing over the property line can be trimmed by them, so your tree can suffer badly if its hanging branches are not welcome. A good rule is to divide the spread of your tree by two and plant at least two-thirds of that distance away from the property line. That way the bulk of your tree will always be on your property, safe from the chain-saws of neighbors. As well, in some urban areas there are municipal by-laws on the height of trees close to the property line, often within 6 feet, so by planting further inside the line you will not face future problems and have to cut down a tall tree.
Since your tree will be around for decades or even centuries, it makes sense to give some careful thought to the tree you choose and exactly where you plant it. By planting in a good location, where it can develop fully and its full beauty can be appreciated, your new tree will be sure of a long and healthy life, bringing pleasure not just to you and your family, but to future generations as well. Nothing says security and stability like a mature tree. Planting the right tree in the right place just takes a little thought and planning, because like real estate, trees are all about location, location, location.