We admit it – we’re tree huggers! We love trees. Not only are they super important for the health of the environment, they are the backbone of any great landscape design. When you first walk into a garden, it is the tree canopy that sets the general mood. From a design perspective, trees provide height and structure and help to delineate space. They can be used to create privacy and individual garden rooms within the larger garden. In this way, you can think of them as the “walls of the garden.”

More About Trees

Trees can be one of the loveliest elements of the garden. Some trees are flowering, providing big splashes of seasonal color. Others offer vibrant foliage throughout the spring, summer and fall, while some varieties have lush green foliage that turns to the brilliant hues that usher in the autumn season. Some trees have fruit that ripens in the fall, providing color to the garden and food for the birds. Evergreen trees keep their foliage year-round, which makes them perfect candidates for privacy screening. Evergreens also provide color in an otherwise bleak winter landscape. Finally, tree shapes and interesting bark can offer year-round beauty and interest.

Planting a tree is a link to the future. In a way, planting a tree is like giving a gift to the next generation. Before you reach for a shovel, however, there are some important points to consider.

Planting With Purpose

One of the first considerations when selecting a tree is what will be its function or purpose? If you don’t have any trees or just one or two, you may want to consider trees which provide shade and trees which provide privacy first.

Shade trees should be positioned so that they block undesirable sun. If you want to plant a shade tree near your deck, for example, plant the tree so that it will block the hot southern and western sun. That way, you will enjoy dining al fresco in the cooler shade all summer long with a properly positioned shade tree.

For privacy, evergreens make excellent screens. Instead of planting a long row of arborvitaes or cypress for screening, consider tree groupings. Groups of evergreens along with flowering trees or shrubs, create a more interesting setting. Planting needled evergreens, such as pines or spruce, on the northwest side of your home will also help block winter winds and reduce your heating bill too.

Once shade and privacy trees are in place, consider flowering trees. Don’t be afraid to group several of the same type of trees together, creating a small grove. This is often more interesting than single trees scattered here and there. While it is wonderful to have a long succession of bloom-time in our garden, several trees blooming at one time can make an even greater impact.

Finally, accent trees, those with unusual shapes, should be carefully positioned. They often look best as the focal point in a landscaped bed. A single weeping Japanese Maple looks lost planted in the middle of the yard, yet, when it is planted with shrubs that accentuate its color and form, it becomes the queen of the garden. A large, majestic tree, such as a Southern magnolia, is an exception to this and looks beautiful when planted alone in a large space.

Room to Grow

A second consideration when choosing a tree is its size. It is helpful to look at established trees in your neighborhood to accurately visualize how large a particular type of tree will grow. Shade trees should be planted 20 feet away from the house and from other trees, while flowering trees can be planted 15 feet away from the house or each other. Most evergreen trees should be planted 15 feet apart. Planting trees too close to a structure or to each other can cause problems for both trees and structures.

When trees are planted too close together, they cannot develop a healthy root structure – there is simply not enough space for the roots to grow. When trees are planted too close to a building or other structure, the roots may not have enough room to develop without interfering with the structure’s foundation. Tree limbs growing too close or over the building also pose risks.

Tree Geometry

The third consideration should be the shape of the tree. There are twelve basic tree shapes. The most common are round, vase, upright oval, weeping, broad triangle, and horizontal oval.

Location, Location, Location

A final consideration is that you understand the best growing conditions for the trees you are purchasing. Planting the right tree in the right place is the easiest way to ensure that you will benefit from all the outstanding features the tree has to offer. It is important that you know the light, soil, and wind conditions of the planting site.

With proper planning, selection, positioning and care, your tree will provide a lifetime of enjoyment and benefit, both for you and for the next generation.