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Selecting the Proper Tree for Your Landscape Design

by Guest Post on May 3, 2012

When selecting a tree to be added to your home landscape you should consider a few things before you buy. It is very crucial to consider the characteristics of the planting site and the condition of the plant that you want to purchase. Proper selection of a tree can save you lots of work, time, and money by making the right decisions from the start.

When considering the planting site you must know the hardiness zone of your area. The U.S. is divided into various hardiness zones that are based on average annual minimum temperatures. In some cases in the northeast, there may be microclimates where the hardiness zone may differ from your local area's hardiness zone. For instance, a hilltop may have lower winter temperatures as opposed to a valley. Another characteristic of the site that should be looked at is the soil. Some trees require better soil qualities than others. The soil texture, acidity, and structure will influence the overall success of the plant. Sandy soils have poor water holding capacities, structure, and nutrient availability. Clay soils are too dense and do not allow sufficient drainage for most shade trees. In some cases, soil amendments like organic material such as peat moss may be added to increase the productivity of the soil.

The amount of sunlight that the site receives is also a key factor in making your plant selection. A tree such as the Canadian hemlock requires less light than a Norway maple that prefers full sun. Also, the rate of the tree of growth should be considered. Do you want a slow-growing species or a fast-growing species? Fast-growing trees tend to have weak wood and require more maintenance than slow-growing trees. Also, you need to know how large of an area do you have for the tree's crown and root structure. This is very important when planting close to buildings or utilities. By selecting a tree that will be the right size for the area, you will save yourself a headache and the money it would cost to remove the improperly placed tree.

Once you have considered all of the things I have just discussed, you can now make the final decision as to what tree you want to plant. I would suggest buying a book on ornamental shade trees for full descriptions of the plants you have in mind. Once you have your mind set on a few different ideas, you can make your trip to the local garden center to seek these plants out.

Most garden centers offer both balled and burlapped and containerized plants. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Balled and burlapped plants have good root structure and have fewer problems with girdling roots which will cause serious problems to the tree years down the road. A disadvantage to balled and burlapped plants is that some of the root systems are lost when they are dug from the soil that they were growing in which causes stress to the plant. Also balled and burlapped plants tend to be very heavy and sometimes they can be messy. Containerized plants are easier and cleaner to handle. But the downfall to containerized plants is that they get root bound and in some cases create girdling roots. I would suggest buying smaller plants in containers and larger trees in burlap because of this problem.

Once you have your specific species of tree selected you should look for important defects in the tree. The easiest thing to look for is bark damage make sure you inspect all of the bark from the first few branches right down to where the roots start. It is very common to find scrapes on nursery stock. These scrapes will create ugly cankers and they will serve as an entrance to diseases. Also, look for any other defects in the bark such as cracks or sun-scald. Another thing to look for that I mentioned earlier is girdling roots that circle the base of the trunk. These can be removed when the plant is young but it is best to avoid them altogether. Another feature to look at is the main stem or leader. Making sure that there is only one main leader having more than one will cause the tree to split years from now. A good shade tree should have branches that are almost parallel to the ground. Trees with good scaffold branches will be a lot stronger than branches with steep V angles in their crotches. Fully inspect the tree from top to bottom and make sure the tree has lots of new growth, good leaf color, and fairly little insect damage. Another suggestion is to ask the people at the garden center where the plants came from. If the plants were grown in some southern state and you live in the northeast that plant will not be as hardy as a northern-grown plant.

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