Plant a tree to add beauty and value to your home

by J.D. Roth

There’s nothing like a breathtaking autumn to make us notice the trees. And fall is the perfect time to start thinking about adding a tree to your property.

J.D. and I are lucky to have many mature trees on our lot, but that didn’t stop us from planting more when we moved in. We added four fruit trees and a Japanese Zelkova for shade on the southwest side of our home. In only its second summer, that shade tree was already a welcome spot of cool for J.D. and the cats.

In most climates, autumn and spring are the best times for planting new trees, but a tree is a lifetime commitment, so don’t rush into anything! Do your research now so you’re ready for a springtime purchase, or spend the next 10 months watching trees in your neighborhood before picking the one that’s right for you.

Why Plant a Tree?

For a small investment of money and time, a tree provides many long-term benefits, including these cited by the Arbor Day Foundation:

What Kind of Tree Should You Plant?

Now that you’re convinced, here’s the fun part: choosing your tree.

This is the most crucial step. Putting the wrong tree in the wrong place spells trouble down the road for you, your neighbors, or future owners. I frequently see housing developments built during the early nineties that are planted with ill-chosen trees.

Often, new homes are sold with no backyard landscaping and merely grass and a few ornamental shrubs in front. Because their houses are so close together, homeowners may have felt compelled to plant fast-growing trees to provide a bit of privacy. After a decade, however, these trees are reaching out to block windows, touch roofs or walls, stretch toward power lines, overhang driveways, and creating lawn and sewer problems with their root systems. A tree that’s going to be 80-feet tall when mature does not belong in a postage-stamp-sized yard.

Plan ahead by asking yourself these questions:

I recommend that you begin your quest for the perfect tree in your own neighborhood. Look for trees you like and observe them during each season. You might even talk to the home or business owner to get their opinions on the tree. Like most people, each tree has bad habits. Does it send up obnoxious invasive sprouts from its root system? A lot of pollen in the spring? Have weak wood that results in downed limbs? Make sure you can live with the flaws.

An arboretum or local park can show you what the fully-grown trees look like. (Take along a picnic lunch and a tree identification guide so you’ll know what you’re seeing.) The staff of a quality local nursery can help you identify a tree from a leaf or flower, and answer questions about its habits.

If you need additional help, check out the Advanced Tree Search tool from the Arbor Day Foundation website. (The main Arbor Day site also has links to local resources and arborists.)

Ready to Buy, Ready to Plant

Although you may find a greater selection by mail-order, I highly recommend choosing and purchasing your tree in person. A young tree in a 20-gallon pot may be 6-12 feet tall and run around $100-200, depending on variety.

Go to a good nursery and examine the branch structures of the type of tree you’re shopping for. Look for evidence of pest damage. Beware of thick roots circling the inside of the pot or thrusting up from the soil. Ask questions! And be prepared to get it home; a potted tree is heavy and awkward. A good way to damage a young tree is to stick the pot in your car’s hatchback, the trunk waving in the air, and drive home on the freeway with the limbs crashing in the wind.

Note: If you live in an area with limited nursery options, start by seeing what trees are available in your area and then researching those to make your choice. It’s discouraging to settle on the perfect tree, only to find it’s not for sale in your state. That could mean some hefty freight charges if you have your heart set on a particular tree.

Once you get the tree home, plant it as soon as you can.

Remember: Your choice between spring or fall planting is important.

Trees need time to reach their potential. Eventually, that small twig will be a thing of joy. Just sit back and watch your tree grow, adding both beauty and value to your home.

Updated: 23 November 2008

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
Copyright © 1994 - 2022 by J.D. Roth