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The Right Tree in the Right Place

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Published on: Mar. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 7, 2010

They prevent storm water runoff and soil erosion, enhance residential and commercial values, break the force of wind, and save energy used for heating and cooling. Plant large trees on the east and west sides of your home to maximize energy savings.

Big trees buffer noise and provide habitat to a variety of birds and other animals. Big trees also increase property values to the tune of about $1,000 per tree.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, large yard trees, which live about 120 years, give us annual benefits of about $55. Small trees, which can only be expected to live for about 30 years, give us about $23 in benefits annually.

“He who plants a tree, plants a hope.”
—Lucy Larcom

To plant the right tree in the right place, do your research. How big the tree will get once mature and what its general shape will be are important questions to answer.

Understanding size is pretty easy; it includes height and spread. The shape of a tree is more complex. Some trees naturally have one trunk, while others are multi-stemmed. Several kinds of trees can be purchased in a weeping form.

Although they reach similar heights, there is a big difference in the shapes of evergreens and shade trees. An evergreen is like a pyramid sitting in your yard. It takes up a lot of space at the bottom and tapers in toward the top. Shade trees turn that pyramid upside-down. Their branches are up and out of the way of people and traffic, and only their trunks are at ground level.

“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.”
—Lord Orrery, 1749

Find out if the type of tree you are interested in is susceptible to insect and disease problems. Also consider features like fall color, showy or fragrant flowers and interesting bark. Obviously, some trees lose their leaves in the winter while others remain green all year. Bald cypress trees have needles like evergreens, but they lose them in the fall.

How much shade does the tree prefer? Some species, such as oaks, do not tolerate growing in shade. Others may survive in shade, but not produce flowers. Still other trees, such as dogwood, strongly prefer shade.

It’s also helpful to know the kind of fruit a tree produces. Hollies have bright red berries that last all winter. Orchard trees like apple and cherry can be tasty additions to a yard. However, female ginkgo trees produce fruits with a very unpleasant odor, and sweet gum trees produce spiky balls that are the bane of fastidious homeowners.

Other vital characteristics to research include the hardiness of trees in the landscape. Many people prefer to select the kinds of trees that grow in Missouri forests rather than non-native species, because native trees tend to be more disease resistant and less invasive. Generally, if a tree spreads easily by seed or root suckers it’s not good for yards.

Some trees can withstand very poor soils while others will thrive only in soil that looks like chocolate cake. While considering soil, note if the site tends to hold water. Pines, for instance, cannot tolerate “wet feet,” but river birch fares just fine in moist soils.

For more information on making sure the right tree is in the right place, visit www.MissouriConservation.org/7392. There you can access information on tree selection for Missouri, the GrowNative! program and how to determine where best to plant trees in your yard.

Bigger is Better

  • Large trees remove 60 to 70 times more pollution than small trees.
  • Neighborhoods with large, mature trees can be up to 11 degrees cooler in the summer than neighborhoods without the benefit of shade.
  • One big tree in a community provides the cooling equivalent of five air conditioners running 20 hours per day and can cut cooling and heating costs by 10 percent.

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