Selecting the Perfect Tree?!
The number one question we get asked at many events is, “What is the best tree to plant in my yard?” Unfortunately, there isn’t one easy or perfect answer for this question!
For those who know us well, you know we promote diversity first and foremost. Diversity should always be on your mind when planning a tree planting. Different species often provide different benefits. We have also learned a lot from our past mistakes. The devastation from Dutch Elm Disease and the Emerald Ash Borer remind us that planting too many of one species is not a good thing. When we diversify our tree species, we help minimize potential loss of tree canopy due to known or future insect and disease threats.
But diversity it is not the whole story when it comes to tree selection.
Thinking about planting the right tree, in the right place, is also important to the long-term success of any tree planting. While most of us just want to get to the fun part – planting the tree – taking a little time to consider what you want from that tree and where you want to plant it will help ensure your happiness and the tree’s ultimate survivability.
There are several things to consider when selecting a tree and a place to plant it. Using the following characteristics of the site will help you determine what trees are best suited to the site, and will help narrow down your choices when shopping at the nursery.
Are there any future hazards? Prior to ever digging a hole, it is vital to call Iowa One Call or Illinois One Call (JULIE) to request a free utility line location service. You do this by dialing 811 from any phone, and should be done at least 48 hours before you wish to do the work. Not only is this the law, but is a very important safety precaution. We often suggest using One Call early in the planning stages to help determine what utilities are potentially underground in the area(s) you wish to plant. Additionally be sure to look above for utilities or other wires when planning a tree planting. If overhead lines are present, it will be important to choose a low-growing tree to avoid future hazards or tree trimming requirements.
What is the site’s environment like? Trees, much like people, have their own preferences. Soil conditions can be one of the most important indicators for forecasting a tree’s survival. Some trees are more tolerant to wet conditions, while others will thrive in dry soils. After your local One Call service has marked the area for planting, dig a hole and investigate the soil. Is the soil sandy, loamy or clay? The soil composition is very indicative of how much moisture the soil holds. While most trees can grow well in a range of soil conditions, each species will thrive under different soil moisture conditions. For example, floodplain trees are suitable to wetter soil environments while upland trees do best in drier sites.
Just as trees have preferences for soil moisture, most species have significant preferences for how much sun or shade they receive. Knowing how many hours of sun a potential planting site receives each day, and the timing of when it is received (morning, midday, afternoon), is also critical in determining what species to choose for a given location. For example, you would not expect oaks to do well in partial to full shade as they tend to prefer full-sun environments. Species like linden will do all right in full sun, but they can also tolerate more shade.
How will weather and related conditions affect the tree? Here in the Midwest, trees and other plants face a range of extremes when it comes to weather. Weather and related issues can certainly impact the survivability of your tree. One of the first considerations is to make sure that a tree or plant is suitable to your environment. You can make sure a tree is suitable for your area by comparing the climate zone(s) listed on the tree label with the USDA Climate Map for your area. Most of Iowa is in zone 5, while most of Illinois is zone 6. To view the complete USDA Plant Hardiness map, click here.
Be aware of other environmental conditions that may impact your tree. In the winter our snow - and the salt we put on our streets - gets plowed to the side of our streets and to the edges of parking lots. Certain trees are better able to deal with the stress of salt exposure or prolonged snow cover. Certain lawn fertilizers and chemicals can also damage or kill surrounding trees and plants. Younger trees are most susceptible. Be mindful of how the area will be treated during all seasons, not just planting season.
How can we maximize our energy benefits? Trees can also be a great tool for improving the energy efficiency of your home or business and, thus, for saving money too. The US Department of Energy has estimated that properly placing as few as three trees can save the average household between $100 and $250 annually in energy costs. Planting a large, densely-foliated shade tree will obviously provide more shade (and energy savings) than a smaller, ornamental tree, for example.
Selecting the right place for a shade tree will also provide maximum savings on your utility bill, year after year. The best place to plant shade trees is on the east and west sides of buildings. The south side can also provide benefits, but be sure to prune lower branches up over the years to allow the winter sun to reach the home.
During our cold and windy Midwest winters, windbreaks can also help save on energy use and costs by helping to slow the wind and divert it away from the house. For maximum winter wind protection, trees and shrubs should be planted to the north and west of a home or other building. Conifers (evergreens) tend to provide greater wind protection, as they retain their foliage throughout the winter. Planting dense shrubs around the foundation of the building can also help reduce cold air infiltration into your home or office.
Armed with these tips, all that’s left for you to do is a little research. Consider what else is planted in your yard and neighborhood, and plant for diversity. Consider your site and goals when selecting the right tree and the right place to plant it. For more information on tree selection and planting, visit our website and be sure to check out the related links at the bottom of each page.
Planting the right tree in the right place leads to happier trees and happier tree lovers!