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In Connecticut, we are fortunate that many plants, such as trees and woody shrubs, naturally regenerate easily. If humans did not interfere with natural succession, our landscape would be almost completely covered with vegetation, both as a tree canopy and an understory.
We live in a highly populated state, however, and humans have been manipulating their surroundings for eons. We sometimes or often prefer one plant over another around our home, our communities and other areas where we interact with people, wildlife, and the landscape.
Planting the right tree in the right place is not as complicated as you might think. However, examples of a wrong tree planted in a wrong place are many, such as, tall, single- and even multi-stemmed trees planted under power lines. These trees end up deformed by necessary pruning to maintain electrical power. Another example would be evergreen trees, such as White pine and American hemlock, over or near roads and sidewalks possibly shading in winter, causing dangerous icy surfaces. A last one would be planting a tree that would grow beyond a safe space threatening people and property in a weather (wind, snow, ice, lightening) event, such as a tall Silver maple over a playground.
There are several elements to consider as to what tree to plant and where to plant it:
Assess the situation: First and foremost is where do you want a tree placed. You need to consider will it be close to or over your house? Away from buildings and other structures? Do you have a small lot with neighbors (property borders and fencing) close by, or a multi-acre lot? What about underground electrical wires, gas lines, water and septic systems (wells, lines, fields)? Are there driveways, sidewalks, above ground electrical and communication lines? Consider how much space there is between where you want the tree to go in relation to objects above and below. These factor into whether or not the site is suitable for a tree at all, and in considering what species, size, form, dimensions, and longevity to choose.
Design considerations: Trees in the landscape provide many benefits including beauty, shade and cooling, increased property value, and relaxation and calming effects. Do you want a tree for its flowers? Bark color? Fall foliage? Disease free or drought tolerant? Keep in mind crown width, height, upright, oblong, round, size at maturity when considering tree species. Would you prefer year-round foliage (evergreens/conifers) or just six months out of the year (deciduous)? A single or multi-stemmed trunk? Want it the same or similar as other trees nearby? Or, different all together, for diversity and contrast. Do you want the plantings to be dense, or more widely spaced? Heavy shade? Fifty percent, or more sun penetration? Would you prefer a species native to Connecticut, or an exotic (not invasive) species? These are all questions you need to consider.
Tree form: Tree species come from and are significantly characterized by form. Some species have selected varieties or cultivars chosen specifically for genetically controlled form. Forms are layered (branchy), rounded, upright (taller than wider), pyramid, vase shaped, broad (wider than taller), and weeping, to name a few.
Plant and soil considerations: What are the site and soil conditions where you are thinking of planting a tree? You first need to consider soil conditions, such as drainage and fertility, in the planting zone. Tree roots grow out (18 inches to 2 feet in depth generally) where there is available soil nutrients, water, and oxygen. The more outward space (hence soil volume) they have to grow, the more likely the tree will thrive.
Most soils in New England have all the nutrients needed for almost all native trees. There is rarely a need for soil remediation unless the soil has been altered, such as with roadside or urban soils. Some trees prefer more acidic soils while others prefer “sweet” soils (less acidic). All trees prefer bright sun, but some can tolerate shade better than others. Almost all tree species need a good supply of readily available soil moisture while some can tolerate short durations of high or standing water.
Future maintenance: Tree species vary widely in terms of maintenance. All trees shed the leaves/needles and this usually, not always, requires cleanup. As trees mature and age, woody material (bark and branches), and spent flowers, seeds (fruit, nuts, acorns, samara) will disperse around the tree. Some trees attract insects you might not like—for example, Tulip poplar attracts an aphid that creates honeydew than can get on cars, sidewalks, roofing, and outdoor furniture.
All these elements play into your choice of tree species/variety and planting location. Invest time planning ahead and making your selection so you can plant the right tree in your space, to have and enjoy for many years.
-Robert M. Ricard, Ph.D. | Senior Extension Educator, Forestry
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