Tree Selection

In selecting a tree species or cultivar - a species is a particular type of tree, like a Norway maple; a cultivar is a cultivated variety of a species selected for certain characteristics, like a 'Crimson King' Norway maple - our goal should be to have a tree well-matched to its planting site so it survives and thrives. The tree must also achieve our goals for size, shape, function, and appearance and must be affordable. Unfortunately, people usually only pay attention to visually obvious characteristics like flower color, presence or lack of fruit, and crown shape or size. Though such characteristics may be important, they usually have little to do with whether the tree will do well on its planting site. Lack of knowledge of a tree's site-related needs results in disappointed tree owners and a lack of well-adapted trees in our landscapes.

A tree's site-related needs and its ability to withstand environmental extremes are rooted in its native origins. All landscape tree species and cultivars were once native to a certain climatic or geographic region or have been bred from native trees. These native trees were well-adapted to their surroundings and these adaptations usually carry over into the cultivated trees we see (with the exception of some species like fruit trees that have undergone intensive breeding). For example, though a white fir (Abies concolor) at a nursery may have been grown in a nursery in bright sunlight, it still has its native characteristic of shade tolerance that allows it to seed-in under the shade of a forest canopy. Cottonwoods (Populus species) are native to bare river flood plains which helps explain their preference for moist soils and bright light. Though you may not know much about a particular tree's native habitat, remember that trees have specific site requirements that vary between species and cultivars. Matching your site conditions to a tree that you like is the key to tree selection. Several factors that should be considered in matching a tree to your site are described on the following pages.

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