Planting a tree is an amazing experience that we should all live at least once in our life time. Doing some research and getting informed before choosing and planting your tree is essential in order to achieve successful results. For instance, the climate and soil of the region where you live will determine which tree species will grow best in your location. So, identifying your climate zone and the types of trees that are common in your neighborhood is essential.
Some people don’t mind babying their plants and are willing to go out of their way to attend to all of their needs. This usually happens when trying to achieve a more exotic look. For example, planting tropical queen and pygmy date palms in a city like Las Vegas, located in the Mojave Desert area, is possible and not too uncommon, but it is also challenging and demanding. Other folks will only sign up for what works best and requires minimal work and care. A more natural look, consisting of plants that are native to your climate and soil type, will significantly reduce the amount of work you will need to put into your landscape. Moreover, according to the National Wildlife Federation, indigenous plants are well adapted to survive in a particular geographic area in harmony with the climate, soils, rainfall and availability of pollinators and seed dispersers. Besides requiring less maintenance, native plants are welcomed by wildlife and serve an important role in your local ecosystem!
Where to Start
A good starting point when searching for the right tree is to go for a walk or a drive in your neighborhood and observe the landscape in commercial and residential areas. Pay close attention to what types of trees are thriving and which are the most popular ones. Take some photos of your favorite trees and visit your local nursery; they will help you identify what species they are.
In addition, in order to find a tree that matches your personal taste and needs–and the available space you have for it–you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
Are you looking for shade, privacy, greenery or an accent tree? Do you have a size limit (think long term)? Do you have an HOA with a list of trees and plants that you are or are not allowed to have? How much work are you willing to put into it?
Maintenance, watering levels, litter, thorns and poisonous fruits, pest propensities, and root systems, are some other aspects that you will need to consider before selecting your tree. On the other hand, the overall performance of the tree will be affected by its new environment and the care it receives: the soil where it is planted, the amount of water and sun hours it gets, the way that it is pruned and fertilized, its relationship (neutral, beneficial or competitive) with other plants that share the same habitat , etc.
In order to find the right tree, you must determine your climate type (desert, sub-tropical, or tropical), the type of foliage you prefer (deciduous or evergreen), the features you are looking for (shade, privacy or accent), the size you need, and the maintenance level you are willing to sign up for.
- Desert, sub-tropical or tropical: These three classifications determine what kind of weather and watering levels a specific tree will need to grow well and flourish. Each type of tree has a particular tolerance for climatic factors–such as temperatures and rainfall–and some plants are able to use water more efficiently than others. Some trees thrive in very hot and dry climates and once established can tolerate droughts, while others need periodic watering and can even freeze or get sunburnt if exposed to extreme temperatures. Choosing the right tree for the right climate is one of the most important steps and is also water smart!
For example, the Chilean Mesquite, originally from South America, is a drought resistant tree, ideal for desert climates. It grows very fast and has an umbrella shaped canopy, which provides ample shade. On the contrary, willows can tolerate and even thrive in wet soil and swamps, where many other trees would die from lack of oxygen or rotten roots. They are best suited for areas with heavy rains and high humidity levels.
- Deciduous or evergreen: Deciduous trees lose all of their leaves in the fall, sprout and bloom in the spring, and provide shade all summer. These types of trees help to reduce temperatures in the hot seasons by blocking the sun’s heat, yet allow the sun to warm your house or backyard in the winter. Evergreens stay green all year round, they shed and renew their leaves like we renew our hair, providing greenery all seasons.
For instance, most maple and oak trees (commonly native to Asia) are deciduous. In the fall, their leaves turn red, orange, or yellow, making the scenery poetic and breathtaking. On the other hand, the Australian Bottle tree, native to Australia, is an evergreen that provides shade and greenery year round. It is a a very clean and low maintenance tree that slowly renews its leaves throughout the year.
- Shade or accent: Are you looking for some shade to cool down your patio or lower the temperature of your home? Or maybe you would like to add some contrast to your front yard with a colorful accent tree.
To name a few, the Purple-Leaf Plum and Flowering Cherry trees are definitely ideal accent trees. They lose all of their leaves in the winter but bloom with beautiful pink flowers in the spring. The Indian Laurel or Ficus Nitida, native from South and Southeast Asia, is a large size tree that can reach a height of almost 100 feet (30 meters)–if located in the right climate–and is an excellent shade tree that stays full all year.
- Size: Trees can be classified by size too. Dwarf, small, medium, large, or extra-large. Weather you pick a slow or fast growing tree, you need to plan ahead and think about the future. Some trees can reach up to 150 feet in their lifetime while others will never pass the 15 feet mark. Some are fast growers and can grow up to 5 or 6 feet per year, (such as the Sissoo tree, native from India) while others will only grow a few inches each year (like most palm trees).
A great example of a gigantic tree is the Eastern White Pine, also known as ‘Tree of Peace,’ native to Eastern North America. These trees can easily reach a height of 150 feet and live up to 500 years (pre-colonial documentation has shown cases of Eastern White Pines reaching a height of 230 feet).
Contrarily, Pineapple palms, also known as the Canary Island Date Palm, have a very slow growth rate –only a few inches per year- but they can grow as tall as 60 feet with a 25 feet wide crown. On the other hand, small size trees, like the Carolina Cherry or some citrus species, will reach a maximum height of 15 feet (or even 2 to 4 feet for dwarf versions).
- Maintenance level: This is another important factor to consider when buying or choosing your tree. It’s easy to fall in love with a tree because of its gorgeous flowers or the shape of its canopy, but beauty may come at a high price, it could require extra cleaning and constant pruning in order to look beautiful at all times.
Some trees are messier than others and may create litter problems, especially if they are close to a pool. Seed pods, fruits, seasonal flowers, excessive amounts of leaves, and pine needles are some examples. Tree litter drops on the ground, is carried by the wind into the pool and neighbors’ yards, and/or piles up on your lawn, demanding periodic clean up.
Other factors that can become a problem along the way are: pruning requirements (especially for palms), watering levels, tendencies to attract pests and infestations, and vulnerabilities to extreme weather (such as sunburn and freeze damage).
African Sumacs are evergreen trees that provide plenty of shade. They require little pruning and they thrive in intense desert heat or cold, but they constantly renew their leaves, so keep your rake handy! Their roots can be a little invasive, so once they are established it’s hard to get rid of them.
Pindo Palms, native to Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, are one of the hardiest feather palms, tolerant to drought and freezing temperatures. Their growth rate is slow and they require very little pruning; the dates clusters can be cut off before they ripen to avoid litter.
So, some important aspects you want to take into consideration when choosing the right tree for you are your climate (desert, sub-tropical, or tropical), foliage preference (deciduous or evergreen), special features (shade, privacy or accent), size, and maintenance level. Once you have done your homework, you should be able to make an educated and successful choice. Good luck and enjoy your tree!
- Learn more about why trees are so good for us and the environment in Plant a Tree!
- How to Plant Your Tree
- Find out the most common Reasons Why Trees Can Fail.
Plant a tree and remember all of the benefits and good reasons to do so:
- Plants and trees help eliminate indoor and outdoor air pollution and enrich the quality of the soil.
- As no other life form can, plants produce their food out of the energy from the sun and by transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen (photosynthesis) they make all human and animal life on this planet possible.
- They act as windbreaks, help recycle water, slow storm water run-off, create cool shaded areas, and provide food and shelter to humans and wild life.
- They are beautiful and refreshing, and transmit a sense of peacefulness and healthiness; they make any place look better.
- Greenery also attracts beautiful birds and butterflies and increases the value of any property!
We cannot live without trees. Let’s cherish and promote their existence!
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