A classic mistake that eager homeowners make is choosing a tree based on looks alone. A tree is a significant, long-term investment, so make your selection carefully.
Native trees are often a smart choice; they're already adapted to local weather and soil, not to mention they're probably resistant to common area pests or diseases. If which trees are native and which aren't isn't obvious to you when you go shopping, ask. Or better still, first visit a nearby park, botanical garden, or arboretum where trees are mature and labeled.
Horticulturists breed or select cultivars of native trees, and these cultivated varieties are seen as variations or improvements on their wild forbears. Where available, they may be your best bet of all because they build off of natural adaptations.
Otherwise, just make a smart match: If your soil is naturally dry, sandy, or quick-draining, don't choose a thirsty tree like a birch or a willow. Keeping it healthy and looking good would only become a major, and perhaps frustrating, project. Shop close to home — reputable local nurseries have plenty of stock that ought to thrive for you. If your chosen site has any special or unique conditions (boggy soil, say), tell the salesperson so he or she can assist you in making an appropriate choice.
Beware of shedders: Trees that dump leaves, seedpods, nuts, or cotton end up being a lot of extra work unless you're prepared to handle it. Examples include poplar, mulberry, cottonwood, willow, sweetgum, eucalyptus, horse chestnut, and black walnut.
Consider shade density. If you prefer dappled shade (and hope to grow lawn underneath the tree), choose a tree with a lighter canopy. Examples include ash, birch, honeylocust, and linden. If you want dense shade, go for an oak or maple.
If your summers are long and hot, you don't want a new young tree to just dry out and die, even despite extra water and attention from you. Your ideal tree should have small rather than large leaves (this includes needles!). Leaves with less surface area conserve moisture better. The tree should also have deep roots that can travel to where sustaining moisture is. Good drought-resilient trees include Eastern red cedar, live oak, hickory, Kentucky coffee tree, honeylocust, persimmon, bur oak, pin oak, gingko, laurel, pines, mesquite, Aleppo pine, blue Atlas cedar, and jacaranda.
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