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How to Choose Just the Right Tree

Karna Berg, Master Gardener

Trees can add so much character to the landscape of your yard. But it’s important to choose a tree that meets your goals. After all, a tree you plant now may last a lifetime. When deciding to add a tree to your landscape there are many things to consider. This article will help you get started on what you need to research.

How to Choose Just the Right Tree

Once you have decided you’d like a new tree in your yard, the hard part comes.  There are so many possibilities to choose from, how does one choose?  Here are some basics to consider along with a couple sources to give you more information.  Answer these questions before heading to the nursey.  

First, ask yourself, why do I want a tree?  Do you want it for shade, beauty, wildlife, privacy, fall color, fruit or something else?  That will help you to immediately narrow your search.  

Then, consider the character of your home and yard.  Do you have a large or small yard?  Are there power lines overhead?  Do you have sun?  How about moisture, is your yard wet or dry?  You probably don’t want a tree that will overpower your house, hit power lines, die from lack of sun, or need constant watering.  

Now, consider the amount of time you want to spend caring for this tree.  Do you want to be constantly trimming it, picking fruit, cleaning up the mess it makes, or wrapping it for winter?  Or do you want a low care tree?

River Birch

None of these answers will come just from looking at the tag at the nursery.  You must do some thinking and a little research on your own.  For example, it is not wise to rely on the tag to tell you how tall and wide the tree will get.  It seems that most plants grow larger than what the tag tells you.

Here are a few suggestions.  If you want a tree for shade, you are looking for a deciduous tree that will lose its leaves in the winter.  And you probably want some height.  But make sure it is not so wide it hits your house or shades your vegetable garden.  There are now some beautiful deciduous trees that get no wider than about 5 feet.    

If you want beauty, you are looking for an ornamental tree.  There are many to pick from.  Read about the blooms or other color the tree will provide.  Be aware that generally, these trees will do best in full sun.  They vary widely in height so pick the size to fit your spot.  And be sure to consider the zone listed on the tag.  While some gardeners have had luck with zone 5 trees and plants, it is always chancy.  A beautiful Japanese maple I had in my yard suddenly died during a winter of extreme temperature changes.  And that seems to be the way our winters are going.

Crabapple Red Splendor

If you want privacy, go for an evergreen tree that will not shed its needles in the winter.  A good choice would be a type of arborvitae.  

While we could not cover all the issues in selecting a tree, the University of Minnesota Extension has some great resources on choosing the right tree. Click this link to find recommended trees for Minnesota, trees for pollinators, trees for shady area and more. And check out this Minnesota Department of Natural Resources site for advice on choosing the “right” tree. Choose well and you will enjoy many years with the new tree in your yard.

Photo Credit: University of Minnesota Extension (1,2,3)

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