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Selecting the Right Tree

A tree is a big investment because it has the potential to last for many years. Find out how to find the perfect trees for your yard.

Courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens®


Tree Basics

Trees not only offer years of enjoyment, they can bloom and grow for generations. Take the time to find the perfect variety and placement for your yard’s trees. You need to consider more than appearance. Think about the leaves it will shed each fall or the fruit it will bear each season. Make sure that you are aware of the level of care your tree will require. Select trees that offer the best combinations of the qualities that you want.

Ask yourself a few basic questions including: Why do I want a tree? For shade? Privacy? Something to look pretty, or block the view of the neighbor's less-than-lovely backyard?

A tree's growth rate also may have a bearing on your choice. The slower growers are hardwoods and tend to live longer. If it's important to establish shade or have flowers relatively quickly, choose a fast-growing tree. Typically, they're smaller, have soft wood, and don't live as long. Scale trees to their surroundings. Use small or medium-sized varieties for smaller houses and yards. On any site, put smaller trees near the house and taller ones farther out in the yard or at its edge.

Trees and shrubs are either deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and are bare all winter, though the leaves often give a final show of beautiful colors before they drop. Evergreen trees and shrubs retain their foliage year-round. Some, such as southern magnolia, feature broad leaves. Others, such as pines, have needled foliage.


Healthy, mature shade trees can contribute up to $1,500 toward a lot's value. 


Every kind of cultivated tree has assets that suit it for some landscape use. Each also has certain requirements critical to its survival in the yard. Some are more cold-hardy than others, so check their hardiness-zone rating. Many do best in rich, moist, woodsy soil that's definitely on the acid side. Others prefer more alkaline soil that tends to be dry because it's not as rich in moisture-holding organic matter. Some trees, like swamp red maples and bald cypress, can handle even truly wet soil.

Trees also have their liabilities. Some have thorns that make them unsuitable for homes with children. Others are weedy; some are messy -- sycamores and relatives of the London plane tree drip fuzzy balls, bark, and twigs all over the place. The spiked balls from sweetgum trees and the runaway roots of willows present challenges as well. However, if you choose the right place for some of these less-desirable varieties, you often can overlook their faults and enjoy their virtues instead.


Fruit and thorns of the hawthorn. 


A small tree is not always a young tree. If it's small from lack of vigor, the condition of its bark will give it away. A weak one will have thicker bark that's textured with ridges, furrows, or flakes, rather than the smooth, tender bark of youth.


Certain trees are more tolerant of typical urban conditions than others. They're able to handle atmospheric pollutants from industry and cars, compacted soil, poor drainage, night lighting, and salt spray from snow plows. Typically, city trees have much shorter lifespans than their suburban or country counterparts. Those that do best are Norway maple, oaks, Washington hawthorn, ginkgo, honeylocust, sweetgum, crabapple, linden, and zelkova.

Yard Trees - Lidenleaf

Tree Choices -- Set 1


Japanese Maple

Japanese maples grow 3 to 20 feet tall and offer fine-textured foliage, rich color, interesting shapes, and a tolerance for some shade. Use them to adorn beds, pools, and lawns. Hardy in zones 3 to 6.

Yard Trees - Japanese Maple












Callery Pear

Callery pear is fast growing and has small, white flowers in the spring and colorful foliage in the fall. Its pyramidal canopy reaches 30 to 45 feet at maturity. Early versions called Bradford tend to split in storms, so choose 'Aristocrat' or 'Chanticleer.' Hardy to Zone 4.

Yard Trees - Callery Pear



Crabapple grows 15 to 25 feet tall, and is covered in spring with deep pink flower buds that become white blossoms. In turn, they give way to small red or yellow apples that the birds love. The tree spreads to an irregular shape. Zones 3 to 5.

Yard Trees - Crabapple



Honeylocust is tough and adaptable, grows 30 to 50 feet tall, and drops pods. Its foliage turns yellow in fall. Choose the thornless variety. Zones 3 to 9.

Yard Trees - Honeylocust 

Tree Choices -- Set 2


Korean Dogwood

Korean dogwood has white spring flowers with pointed petals. Dangling, fleshy red fruits hang from its distinctly horizontal branches in fall. Zones 6 to 9.

Yard Trees - Korean Dogwood


Citrus Trees

Citrus trees bear lovely, fragrant, white flowers and edible fruits. These small trees easily deteriorate not sprayed properly. Zones 9 and 10.

Yard Trees - Citrus



Redbud bears tiny pinkish purple flowers along its stems and bare branches in early spring. They give way to rows of wide heart-shaped leaves. Pods become visible as leaves turn yellow in fall. Mature trees grow 25 to 30 feet tall. Zones 5 to 9.

Yard Trees - Redbud


Saucer Magnolia

Saucer magnolia is deciduous and grows up to 30 feet tall. It bears 6-inch-long, pale pink flowers early in spring. Hardy to Zone 6.

Yard Tree - Saucer Magnolia


Tree Choices -- Set 3



Serviceberry is a tough and adaptable large shrub or small tree at 6 to 20 feet tall. Its early spring clouds of white flowers become edible dark fruits by June. Yellowish pink fall foliage entertains in a woodland setting or near a patio. Hardy to Zone 4.

Yard Tree -Serviceberry


Sorrel (Sourwood)

Sorrel, or sourwood, grows to 75 feet tall and is a multiseason beauty. Its July flowers are drooping strands of tiny white urns among slightly leathery and glossy, medium green leaves that turn to a brilliant red early in the fall. Hardy to Zone 5.

Yard Tree - Sorrel



Tuliptree grows quickly to its 25-foot height. Beautiful tulip flowers with orange centers snuggle among interesting leaves. Hardy to Zone 5.

Yard Tree - Tulip


Weeping Cherry

Weeping cherry varieties typically grow 15 to 25 feet tall and spread as wide. They bear a blizzard of pink or white, single or double flowers. Zones 6 to 9.

Yard Tree - Weeping Cherry



Tree Choices -- Set 4


White Cedar

White cedar is a type of false cypress that grows to a narrow, conical 40 to 50 feet tall. It begins with a slender shape, then turns spirelike upon maturity. At home in the eastern part of the U.S., it has light green or grayish foliage and likes wet soil. Zones 4 to 8.

Yard Tree - White Cedar


Willow Oak

Willow oak has narrow and pointed foliage, and forms a fine-textured, dense conical canopy, rising to about 50 feet at maturity. It makes a good street and shade tree and is easy to transplant. Foliage turns yellow before it drops in the fall. Hardy to Zone 6.

Yard Tree - Willow Oak



Pine foliage is evergreen for year-round beauty and is comprised of bundles of soft, long needles. Though some pines are a bit brittle in harsh weather, they're often used for wind and privacy screening. Hardy in various zones, depending on the variety of tree.

Yard Tree - Pine



Spruce trees are fragrant needled evergreens -- perhaps the ultimate Christmas tree. They range in height from dwarves less than 5 feet tall to giants that tower over 100 feet high. Depending on variety, the hardiness range extends as cold as Zone 3.

 Yard Tree - Spruce 


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