Trees serve a variety of purposes in the yard, providing shade, color, privacy, fruit, windbreaks, and a natural setting. From tiny dwarfs to stately lawn trees, there are varieties to enhance home gardens of any size.
Because trees tend to be larger and more permanent than most plants in the home garden, they are typically the most prominent and enduring features of the landscape. Choosing trees, therefore, is a matter of careful consideration.
Many Uses in the Yard
The first step toward making a good choice of garden trees is to consider basic needs. Does the home, yard, or patio need shading from hot summer sun? Is protection from the north winds of winter necessary? Is there an eyesore which could be screened by trees, or is there undesirable street noise that could be muffled? Would trees with fire-retard ant qualities be helpful in your area?
Aside from utility, of course, there is landscape design to consider. Trees provide an attractive focus by adding color and new dimensions in the garden, accenting the features of the house and property with complementary shapes and hues.
The sheer variety of trees makes the choices almost endless. The shape may be tall and narrow, or a tree may have a spreading, rounded crown. Branches may hover close to the ground, or begin high up the trunk. There are year-round evergreens, or deciduous species with lush summer foliage, brilliant autumn leaves, and bare branches in winter. Dwarf varieties give added possibilities to small gardens. Many ornamentals display bright flowers and berries in the summer months. Fruit trees spice up the garden with fragrant and colorful blossoms and fruit, as well as providing fresh produce for the kitchen. There are fast-growing trees available that mature in several years. And, if there are existing trees on the property that have been neglected, a little maintenance might restore them adequately.
By taking all of these possibilities into consideration, the most versatile and attractive trees can be chosen for particular areas.
Which Trees Will Grow in Your Garden?
Once it has been decided to plant a tree in a specific area, the growing conditions must be understood before the right tree can be chosen. What type of soil is available? Is there full sun or shade for part of the day? Is it a damp or windy location? Will the tree be easily accessible for maintenance, such as raking leaves, pruning, or picking fruit? Is there room for large, shallow roots to spread, or is a deep-rooted tree more suitable? The local nursery will be able to supply information as to which species thrive in the area's climate, and give advice on which particular trees will do well under given conditions in a garden.
All trees require maintenance – some much more than others. A yard can be planned to contain only low-maintenance trees, but most gardeners with an interest in diversity will be tempted to choose a few specimens that require more than minimal care.
Young trees will need to be watered regularly until they are established, and many mature trees appreciate a good soaking in dry weather. Deciduous trees drop leaves that need raking, and fruiting trees may drop berries, nuts, or fruits.
Applications of fertilizer may be a regular requirement for some trees and absolutely unnecessary for others. Certain species require regular or sporadic pruning or shearing for best results. Large branches may need to be thinned from tall trees every few years, or suckers removed from around the trunk. And many trees can fall prey to pests and diseases which need to be controlled. Before purchasing a tree, be familiar with its life-long maintenance needs.
Most home gardens are able to support at least 1 or 2 fruit trees, and the ornamental and food value they provide make them worth considering. For very small yards, dwarf varieties are required, some of which can grow in a large pot on the patio. When buying, be aware that the size of dwarfs ranges from 3 or 4 feet tall to 10 feet or more. This is important, because each species really does need its recommended amount of garden space in order to produce a good crop. Dwarf fruit trees are also suitable for large gardens, but the home owner may wish to cultivate standard size trees as well for increased fruit production and summer shade.
Aside from the regular considerations of soil and climate, gardeners who grow fruit trees must be willing to give them yearly maintenance, particularly pruning. It is all too easy to neglect pruning - or get to it a bit late in the spring - and fruit production suffers in both cases. Pruning must be done properly, thinning the tree to allow sunlight to reach the fruit and keep branches from becoming too heavy. Citrus species require much less pruning than other fruit trees. Attention must also be paid to annual fertilizing, adequate and timely watering, and the prevention or control of pests and diseases.
In spite of the fact that fruit trees are rarely considered to be low-maintenance species, most gardeners agree that the taste of a fresh apricot, plum, or apple is well worth a little work.
TIPS: TRY NATIVE SPECIES
Native trees blend in naturally with the surroundings and thrive in local soil, temperature, and rainfall conditions. Typically, they require little in the way of maintenance. As a bonus, native trees provide a habitat for local wildlife.
Besides evaluating the overall health of the tree you are buying, be aware that younger nursery specimens are much more economical than older, larger ones. And remember to consider a tree's probable size at maturity; a sapling can spread widely or grow to a towering height in 7 or 8 years, crowding out other plants.
1. Make sure roots are healthy, and not dried out. Cut back damaged roots.
2. A moderate pruning of branches may be helpful, but is often not necessary.
3. Dig a hole larger than the root system. Spread the roots over mounded soil.
4. Fill in the hole part-way, so most of the roots are covered. Water thoroughly.
5. Adjust the placement of the tree so the base is even with the ground level.
6. Fill the hole and moisten the top layer. Avoid watering again until new shoots appear.