Choosing the Right Tree Species

You have finally decided to plant a tree in the front yard. Congratulations! The big question now: Which tree?

First, there is no perfect tree. All trees have both good and bad characteristics. Most trees are more or less adaptable to your specific site. Some are more susceptible to disease and insect damage than others. The best advice is to plant a diversity of species. Choose trees for shade, some that bloom and a few just to be ornamental.

The first characteristic to think about is the mature size of the tree. The goal is to find a tree that will fill the space without pruning to control its size. Plant the biggest tree possible to return the highest environmental impact. Be aware of overhead and underground utility lines that may run through the property. If you need help in locating these lines, contact your local utility company.

Also, consider other landscaping around the house. Does your selected tree fit into the overall look? A larger tree like an Oak will look better planted farther from house when it reaches its maturity. A smaller tree can be planted closer and not overwhelm the house. It all depends on how much space you have in your yard.

Second, how much water is available for the tree on a regular basis? Trees can be sorted as wet-tolerant or dry-tolerant. Planting a native, creek-bottom tree on the top of the hill, next to a brick house may not receive the amount of water that tree needs for survival. The rule-of-thumb for watering trees is to replicate a one inch rainfall each week. To water a ten by ten foot square area, you would have to apply 62 gallons of water. That’s for an average-size tree. All trees need to be watered weekly (if there is no rainfall) until they are established, usually two to three years.

Third, what are the common diseases and insects that may attack the tree? Planting a tree that needs a yearly spray schedule automatically increases the maintenance on that tree. Multiply that by several trees = a lot of time and money. For example, Junipers commonly have bagworms. If your neighbor’s trees already have bagworms, you can treat your new shrubs or trees to control bagworms. The best choice would be to not plant a bagworm susceptible plant. Some crabapples are susceptible to cedar-apple rust. To control this problem, all the cedars and junipers in a one-mile radius would have to be eradicated and that is a little impractical. Spraying the crabapples every 10-14 days is costly and time consuming. The best alternative is choosing a crabapple that is resistant to cedar-apple rust. That will eliminate all the extra time and spray equipment that you would need to maintain a healthy tree.

Other maintenance factors to think about: falling fruit, leaf litter, germinating seeds and suckering.

If you enjoy outdoor work, these factors may not affect your decision, but if you have little time or desire to tackle the maintenance and care of the new trees, these factors will have a distinct impact on your choice of tree variety.

The rest are personal choices. Do you want a specific fall color? Should you choose flowering trees; their color should complement and not clash with the house color and any resulting seeds should not be invasive. Do you want the fruit to attract wildlife? Does it matter if the tree is native or non-native? All of these questions can narrow the list of available plants that can grow around your house.

Now that you know what will fit in your site, a stroll through your local nurseries can give you more ideas about what is available for your area. There are lots of plant lists, descriptions and pictures to help you decide which tree is the perfect fit for your yard. A good place to begin is the UK publication: Trees, Shrubs, Groundcovers, and Vines Suitable for Kentucky Landscapes (HO-61).

Submitted by Amy Aldenderfer, Agent for Horticulture, Hardin Co. Cooperative Extension