Choosing the best tree for the landscape

Kathy Henderson

Garden Columnist

When you are landscaping your home, either starting from the bare lot, or adding to existing plantings, the most important plant choice you make is the tree you install. You need to choose the right site, the correct size (mature) and one with few problems.

Cornus kousa makes a wonderful small tree for the landscape. Special photo

Site: Never plant close to the house, even if you want shade. Only small trees can be planted within 20 feet of the house. At least fifty feet away from house or street for a large tree is best. A tree planted in the shade of a larger tree, may lean to get sunlight. A large-trunked tree will detract from your house if planted in the wrong site.

Size: The most important characteristic for a small lot. Japanese Maple and its cultivars often reach 30 feet or more to make a loose shade.

Evergreen Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’ reaches 26 feet; various evergreen hollies can be trained as trees: ‘Nellie R Stevens,’ ‘Mary Nelle’ and Yaupon cultivars. Certain Osmanthus (Tea Olive) species can be pruned as trees and reach 20 - 25-feet.

Flowering trees are always good choices for the smaller landscape. Crape Myrtle - ‘Natchez’ is one that becomes a 30-foot shade tree with lovely bark. Flowering cherry cultivars and deciduous magnolias, are best in full sun while others like Kousa Dogwood, Red Buck-eye, Redbuds, Chionanthus (Fringe Tree) and Flower-ing Dogwoods will tolerate light shade and still bloom well.

If you need a large shade tree, look at Red Maple cultivars; ‘Red Sunset,’ October Glory’ and ‘Autumn Blaze’ are the best for fall color choices. Oaks such as ‘Nuttallii,’ Willow, Water, Red and White are also 40-60 feet in height.

Problems: All trees will have some sort of problem, just choose one with the fewest problems or those easiest to solve. All trees drop leaves, even evergreen ones (just not all at one time). A rake or blower will solve the tree leaf drop problem. Trees known for messy limb, flower and leaf drop should be planted with careful consideration.

Diseases that are inherent in certain trees are a major problem: Dieback or canker can cause a limb or an entire tree to die. Fireblight can be a twig problem on members of the apple family. Anthracnose leaf spot and other leaf spot diseases as well as Powdery Mildew make the plant unattractive and weaken the tree. Root rot is a problem where plants do not get enough drainage and have problems forming a strong root system. The best cure for disease is choice of plant, good site preparation, proper planting, fertilization, air flow and identifying the problem quickly.

Insects that often inhabit our trees are beetles, caterpillars, and aphids. Some come and go with little damage; others can kill the tree. Some can be controlled with a spray or two, or the application of a systemic to the soil while other must be treated by a commercial applicator.

In short, know your tree very well before planting it in your yard.

Visit Kathy on her Facebook page, Kathy’s Plants for information on her gardening activities.