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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.

Choosing Trees for the Landscape


One of my favorite sayings about trees is: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." While I understood the truth of this statement when I originally heard it, it didn't really have personal significance to me until I became a homeowner ten years ago this month.

Adding to this new meaning was the fact that we were new homeowners of a new house with no landscaping whatsoever. Having a new yard with absolutely no landscaping was a blessing and a curse. While it was nice to be able to plant things wherever we wanted, sometimes this was a bit overwhelming both from a design and financial perspective.

While our overall landscaping plans were a huge source of debate, what we knew for sure was that trees were first on our planting list. When you have no trees, you sure do miss them and want some immediately! Choosing the type of tree is only the first choice of many to make when planting trees.

Trees are available as bare root, container grown, or balled and burlapped for planting in your landscape. Bare root specimens are very small, and balled and burlapped tend to me much larger, with container grown trees are somewhere in the middle.

This difference in size also translates to a difference in price. I had some major sticker shock when I saw how much our balled and burlapped trees cost. This was all the more reason to make sure we were planting our trees correctly.

Before choosing trees, choose your site. Choosing the right placement for your trees will make all the difference in years to come. For example, a tree placed too close to your home will create problems down the road. Problems that may develop include: squirrels and other wildlife may gain access to your roof, and possibly your home; tree limbs may fall on your home during storms; roots can wreak havoc with your foundation or surrounding pavement.

Carefully placing your trees can help conserve energy and ultimately lower your utility bills. The west side of your home is a great place to plant a tree, especially if there are a lot of windows on that side. Shading that side of your home with a well-placed tree will help eliminate extreme heat build-up inside the home.

But what about the winter? Don't we want to capture heat during the winter months? Of course we do—but since the sun is lower in the sky during the winter and most of this winter sunshine comes in through our south-facing windows, it makes sense to keep southern exposures free of trees so the winter sun can shine in.

To combat the cold winter winds, consider planting trees along both the western and northern exposures of your home. Ideally, a windbreak of trees will direct the cold winter winds up and over your home instead of allowing the wind to slam into your home and force its way inside.

Choosing specific trees for your landscape can be fun and challenging at the same time. There are hundreds of trees to choose from, where should you start? For best results, you'll have to do some homework. There are many resources available free of charge to help you make good tree choices.

There are websites available that allow you to plug in your landscape conditions and see a suggested list of trees. U of I Extension has a helpful website at: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/treeselector/ .

If you have a few favorite trees but are not sure whether they will grow well in your landscape, my favorite website is the U of I Plants database: http://woodyplants.nres.uiuc.edu . This database tells you all about how to grow specific trees and shrubs, plus provides pictures of many of them, often including close-ups of the bark, leaves, and other features like flowers.

If the internet is not your thing, and you want some one-on-one assistance, you can always call the U of I Master Gardeners in Macon County at (217) 877-6042 or even stop by the office. Your local nursery or garden center is also a great place to get first-hand opinions and advice about which trees grow well in our area.

Next week we'll look at the correct way to plant a tree, as well as common mistakes that can shorten the life of a newly planted tree.



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