#1 Which tree is best for the specific site I have in mind?
This is perhaps the most important question. If you plant a tree in the wrong location, it will struggle no matter how much after-care you provide. You could water it, feed it, protect it, but it still wouldn’t thrive, and you would not feel joy when you look at it. Ask yourself these basic questions:
How many hours of sun does my site get?
- Full Sun is between six to eight hours of direct sunlight
- Part shade or part sun (used interchangeably) means four to six hours of exposure
- Full shade is less than four hours of sun.
You may also have heard of the term “dappled sun” which is sunlight that is filtered through the branches and leaves of other trees.
To determine how much sunlight an area receives, spend some time observing that spot for a few days between May and July when other trees have their leaves. Jot down whether or not that area is receiving direct sunlight each hour of the day and do this for a few days to find an average.
Is my soil wet or dry?
While some trees are tolerant of many soil types, knowing what soil you have can make all the difference for trees that thrive in specific soil types. Some trees, like River Birch, enjoy wet soil. Hackberry enjoys dry soil. Some trees will tolerate either, such as Bur Oak. Does your location tend to flood in the spring? Is it rather dry in the summer? Walk outside right now and stick your finger in the dirt about 2 inches. Is it wet, just moist, or dry? How long ago did it rain? Arming yourself with even this small amount of information will help you choose a tree. Some trees can live in sandy soils, others prefer clay, others fall somewhere in between. Thankfully, many trees can acclimate to multiple soil types.
How much space do I have?
Anticipating your tree’s mature width (spread) and height helps you plan for obstructions. Are there any property lines, houses, sheds, or driveways? Trees are often not given enough room to grow to their mature size which may mean the tree has to be pruned flat on one side. If it gets to a certain height, will it hit power lines? There is no sadder sight than a tree that has grown to engulf power lines and has been cut into the dreaded “V.” Plan ahead. The young tree you buy today will grow (and grow) over time! Knowing the amount of space you have to work with is essential. Always give a tree the space it will need at maturity.
Is my site near a water source?
Many people don’t realize their new trees will need watering during the first year to establish their roots. Is there a hose nearby? A larger tree will need at least 20 or more gallons of water every week. This means planning to water your plants.
What about the neighborhood?
Take a walk around the neighborhood and look at the trees planted nearby.
You may begin to notice a pattern in your neighborhood’s landscaping, or even notice that the same trees are planted in yard after yard. When choosing trees we all have our own agenda, be it functionality (shade, screening) or aesthetics (fall color, flower). Make sure diversity is on your agenda! Diversity is literally the spice of life, and vital to the ecological health and fitness of any given area. If this is not what motivates you then it is also true that planting too much of the same species can also have great financial repercussions.
Those who have had to replace trees due to Emerald Ash Borer understand this. A single insect species wiped out a very popular, admittedly overplanted landscaping tree, leaving many homeowners to foot the bill for these trees’ removal and replacement. A more diverse set of trees planted in the past would have resulted in the need to replace only one, or a few, rather than a whole yard’s worth (or entire neighborhoods). It is easy to get tunnel vision and only pay mind to what is within the boundaries of your property. Purchasing a new tree is not only an opportunity to add some pizzazz or shade to your yard but to add diversity to an area that is most likely already in great need.
These are the first questions we ask customers when helping them choose a tree starting from scratch. The rest is a matter of preference!