A good friend of mine recently had an overgrown corkscrew willow tree removed from her side yard because the tree’s shallow root system was compromising her driveway and her home’s foundation. The tree had been planted by the previous homeowner. Knowing very little about trees, my friend naturally asked me for advice when it came to selecting and planting a replacement tree for her property. Here’s the information I offered:

Site selection

When choosing a planting site, remember that trees grow. Big. So, naturally, look for open areas with ample sunlight where nearby structures like hydro lines, fences or even other trees will not impede long-term growth. Also, check that the soil is workable and drains well and by digging a little into it.

Careful consideration of the tree’s needs — open spaces, good soil sunlight — before consideration of your own, will help narrow down the best site possibilities. Clearly, the narrow side yard of my friend’s home is not an ideal location to plant a new tree. And because she already has two mature trees in her front yard, my friend decided on a planting site in her southeast-facing backyard in line with a view from her kitchen window. Select the site then choose a tree that suits the site.

Tree goals

Once the site is chosen and you know how much space you have to work with, decide on the tree’s main purpose and qualities. In the front yard, a tree becomes a focal point accentuating entranceways so they should display ornamental features such as colourful foliage or flowers and a neat appearance year round. Flowering trees, such as magnolias and Kousa dogwoods or Japanese maples and ‘Dawyck Purple’ beech, are all suitable choices tailored for suburban home landscapes.

Fewer design restrictions apply to backyards so narrow down the tree choices by focusing on the tree’s goal within the confines of your chosen site. For instance, if you want to attract songbirds or pollinators, native dogwoods, serviceberries, chokeberries and redbuds are excellent smaller tree choices. If your planting site is near a patio or pool, you want to avoid trees that litter fruit, seeds or other debris. If privacy is what you seek, consider quick-growing evergreens such as cedar, or columnar oaks.

My friend’s ‘tree goal’ was to have a tree with spring colour that she could see from her kitchen window. Her backyard adjoins a forested area, so after considering a few native, understory tree choices she decided on a redbud tree.

Shade

How much shade you want is another factor to consider. A strategically placed mature shade tree, such as a red maple, can significantly decrease a home’s energy costs by shielding the home from overheating rays in summer while allowing sunlight to penetrate when most needed in winter. Lindens and many maples cast dense shade while honey locusts and birches’ finer foliage create dappled, light shade. Look to your site to ensure you have the space to accommodate a large shade tree before you choose.

Do your homework

Seek out invasive and disease-prone species and avoid those with destructive roots. Be aware that Norway maples are still sold in nurseries despite their invasive nature.

Other points to consider

Trees come in numerous shapes and forms: weeping, pyramidal, oval, sprawling and fastigiated, to name a few. Select one that is aesthetically pleasing for your chosen site. Finally, if planting near roads, select tree varieties that are wind and salt tolerant. I recently noticed a lovely, weeping (and very expensive) Japanese maple planted less than two metres from a road in my neighbourhood. I doubt it will survive the winter.

Tree and site selection is a process that requires a little work, but consider the rewards a tree brings: trees have restorative power and aesthetic appeal, make yards more private, hide unwanted views, and can diminish wintry winds or unwelcome sounds. They provide habitat and food for wildlife and enrich our gardens with biodiversity. Their canopies clean the air of particulate matter and pollutants, sucking in the carbon dioxide required for photosynthesis and spewing out large quantities of the oxygen we breathe, lessening the effects of greenhouse emissions. And when properly selected, trees require very little maintenance — a bonus for busy gardeners.

September 27 is National tree day so now that you know how to get started, why not plant a tree? You can plant right up until frost and his year’s cooler weather and abundant rainfall make it an especially good time to do so.

Elaine Sanders can be reached at www.solutionsjardins.com

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