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Best Trees for Your Yard

Planting trees can add beauty and value to your home. Here are some tips on choosing the best trees for your area.

| April/May 2010

  • Consider unique characteristics when choosing the best trees for your yard. For example, crape myrtles can liven up a yard with bright blooms that last up to four months. Sweet gum trees have pretty star-shaped leaves.
  • River birch trees – exfoliating bark
    River birch trees have unique exfoliating bark.
  • Pink magnolia tree
    Magnolia trees have large, aromatic blossoms.
  • Eureka weeping cherry tree
    This ‘Eureka’ weeping cherry displays just one of the lovely shapes and shades of flowering tree varieties.
  • Ginkgo tree
    Ginkgo trees offer brilliant fall colors and can grow up to 3 feet per year.
  • White Dogwood Blossoms
    White dogwood blossoms will decorate your yard, and the berries will attract birds, such as the American Goldfinch.
  • Japanese Maple
    While the Japanese maple isn’t a fast grower, you can’t beat its showy color and shape.
  • Crab tree - pink and green
    Choose trees in part for their physical characteristics, such as standout hue of this vibrant, flowering crab tree.
  • Hawthorn tree
    Hawthorns are a nice option for medium-sized trees.
  • Silver bell tree
    Silver bell trees are a nice option for medium-sized trees.

  • River birch trees – exfoliating bark
  • Pink magnolia tree
  • Eureka weeping cherry tree
  • Ginkgo tree
  • White Dogwood Blossoms
  • Japanese Maple
  • Crab tree - pink and green
  • Hawthorn tree
  • Silver bell tree

Trees are rich in beauty and benefits. They are important to the ecological health of our communities, and many of us plant trees to contribute to the well-being of our planet. Planting a tree may also celebrate the birth of a child or mark the loss of a loved one. But probably the most common reason we plant trees is that we just enjoy having them in our backyards.

If you’re considering planting a tree, you’ll find hundreds of tree species available through local nurseries and nursery catalogs. The challenge is to make a good choice for your region and yard. Here are five steps to help you select the best trees for where you live.

1. Find a list of the best trees for your area. Every tree grows better in certain regions, depending on altitude, winter hardiness, average temperatures in winter and summer, and availability of water. Most states have one or more professional landscape associations that keep lists of the best trees for specific states based on growing needs and availability. Your local extension service may also have a list for your county. Or, do an online search for “recommended trees (your state).” In any case, one or more of these lists will get you started.

2. Cross large trees off your list. Large shade trees such as oaks, hickories and most maples are wonderful additions to any yard after they mature — but that’s the catch. If you plant any species that has a mature size of more than 40 feet, you’re likely to move to a new home before that tree makes any impact on the appearance of your landscape. Even if you buy a large specimen, you will likely have to wait 30 to 50 years before it’s full-size.

It’s better to look for a small tree (mature size of less than 30 feet) or a medium-sized tree (mature size of 30 to 40 feet) for your home landscape. Your list is now shorter.

3. Identify the primary tree characteristics you favor: blossoms, fall color, evergreen, interesting shape, bark texture, or trees known for attracting birds and other wildlife. When looking for a new tree, most of us won’t accept just any tree standing in the garden center. We want the new tree to improve our yard, and we have some preferences. If you focus specific tree characteristics, your list will get much shorter.

5/3/2010 1:13:05 PM

I am quite surprised this article is in Mother Earth News. The author has a short sighted view on planting trees. To cross large trees off your planting list, such as oaks, hickory or maples is crazy. You don't have to wait for them to "mature" to enjoy their beauty or benefit. When you plant a tree, you're planting for future generations as well as current. We've planted thousands of trees on an old cotton farm. Oak varities make up a portion of that number. Aiming for diversity even amoung the oaks, we have planted at least 8 varieties of oaks (many from acorns collected on our travels). At 15 years old, we have many specimens over 30 feet tall, namely the chestnut oaks. If you live on a small city lot, I can see not wanting a large tree that would interfer with power lines or other utilities. But since most of your readers are living in the country with over sized lots, this advice makes no sense at all. And the author failed to mention the golf ball sized seed balls that sweet gums drop every year, which are a pain to walk on and clean up. We have not paid more than $10 for any tree. Don't think short term in planting a tree.

Utah Sustainable Gardening
4/29/2010 6:39:06 AM

This article would do well to ad a section on tree safety. Many of the fast growing trees it seems to be promoting are also the ones that are most likely to drop limbs on houses, cars, kids, and grandchildren. While proper pruning will help prevent problems, trees such as poplars and willows will never safe trees.

4/10/2010 9:28:52 PM

When I read this article I thought I had accidentally picked up a "magazine" from Home Depot. The author recommends against buying large slow growing trees because "you're likely to move to a new home" before it matures. I assume most homesteaders are in for the long haul and will greatly appreciate those giant trees in 20-30 years. Not to mention future generations. He also recommends buying the biggest specimen you can afford at a price of $50-$600 each. While this is sound advice for those landscaping a small yard in suburbia, it wasn't financially feasible on my 3 acres. There's a side note about but no mention that you can buy bare root trees for a fraction of the cost of trees you find at garden and home centers. I've been planting trees for 4 years now and haven't spent more than $12 for a tree. I bought 30 leftover earth day trees at $0.75 each a couple of years ago. And don't forget about volunteers. When I find a tree that has started on it's own, I gently dig it up and move it. I plant all the baby trees in the nursery (aka the garden) until they're big enough to move around the property. I also found that some trees are easily grown from cuttings. Especially weeping willow trees. I just cut a branch off and stick it in the ground and soon I have another tree.

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