Plant the Right Tree the Right Way

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Urban Forestry is a productive way for communities to come together and improve the quality of life for everyone. The simple act of planting the right trees in the right places can make our world a better place for generations to come. Here’s how to grow healthy trees that are the right trees for urban landscapes.

By Coletta Teske

Buying a new home was a smack us in the face kind of reminder of how important it is to plant the right trees in all the right places. When we purchased the house, the yard was an overgrown mass of trees gone wild. The worst of the badly planted trees made an entire corner of the backyard, about 900 square feet, an impenetrable fortress and covered one side of the garage in tree limbs.

While cutting down this extreme example of planting the wrong tree in the wrong place, we uncovered what was once an adorable landscaped pond with a waterfall, a small statue and patio lights. We could only guess how this water garden became hidden from view.

We think that when the pond was installed, a pretty little tree about 5 feet tall with a 2 foot spread was planted behind the waterfall. Over the years, that little tree grew and grew. All the while, it was neglected and never pruned. It grew until the pond, the backyard and the garage could be seen no more.

I cried as the chainsaw dropped limb after limb of this tangled up mess of a tree to the ground. It was sad that this little tree had been planted badly. It had become an eye-sore, there were dead branches everywhere and it was damaging the house. Unfortunately, it had to go.

This year we have special reason to celebrate Arbor Day. We want to replace some of the trees and shrubs that we removed from our new property. This time around, we want to make the right choices. We want to select the right trees for our garden, find the right places to plant those trees and care for our trees the right way.

Photograph: View of the tree plantings in our inner city neighborhood. This is just one example of how urban forestry is successfully practiced in Florida. Copyright 2014 Huckaberry’s Cryptic Crydders. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

How to Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place

Here are some general guidelines to help you plant trees that are appropriate to your local area. Each tip is accompanied by an informative video that offers more information. These videos range from 1 minute to 4 minutes in length. You’ll also find all of these videos on my YouTube channel in the Right Tree, Right Place playlist.

Step 1

Learn the Benefits of Trees

I have always loved trees. It could be that I grew up in Seattle with its bluest skies and gigantic old growth forests. Walks in the forest have shown me how trees regulate the climate and make the air fresher.

Trees provide so many benefits and enjoyments, the list is almost endless. Understanding all of the jobs performed by a tree makes it easier to find a tree that will fit in with your landscape, keep your home a comfortable temperature and protect your garden from harsh weather.

There are a lot of decisions to be made before a tree can be planted in the ground. Once a tree has been planted, it will be there for the rest of its life. Trees don't like to move.

Before you go shopping for a new tree for your landscape, get to know the types of trees that will grow easily in your area, determine how much space the tree can occupy and define the purpose for planting the tree.

Here's a video from the Arbor Day Foundation that shows just how important trees are to our comfort and to our environment.

Step 2

Use Native Trees in the Landscape

The five years I spent as a Hawaii Master Gardener was a learning experience in native plants. I saw how native plants can make gardening easier and much more enjoyable.

The best way to reduce tree maintenance and increase your chances of growing a healthy tree is to select a tree that is native to your local area.

Native trees are always the best tree choice. Native trees are hardy in their a local area. Native trees require minimal maintenance because they are acclimated to the local climate and are resistant to local pests.

This video from LEAF Workshop tells us about the benefits of planting native plants and shares tips for selecting a native tree.

Step 3

Select Healthy Trees that are Suitable to the Landscape

Not all of the trees around our new home were bad choices. Several trees are perfect for our yard. The crepe myrtle in the front yard will be a beautiful focal point and only takes up a small amount of space. The camphor tree on the side of the house has plenty of room to stretch its branches which shade the house from the heat of the summer sun. The row of evergreens along the north side of the house protect the garden from the freezing north winds of winter.

There are many variables to be considered before purchasing a tree for the urban landscape. You'll need to know whether the tree will thrive in the local conditions, the mature size of the tree and how the tree will be used in the landscape.

Before choosing a tree, think about the place and the use for the tree. Determine how much space is available to grow the tree. Decide whether the tree will be used as protection from the elements. Find trees that are suitable havens for wildlife. Think about adding a fruit tree to your landscape.

This video by NCAP discusses what to consider when choosing a tree.

Step 4

Plant Trees in the Right Place

Several of the trees around our new home were not well thought out. Several trees were planted next to the house where the roots could cause damage to the foundation. Other trees were planted so that the falling leaves of autumn would clog the rain gutters. A few trees were planted so close together that their branches intertwined and it was impossible to tell where one tree started and the other ended.

Different types of trees have different purposes and different growing requirements. When selecting a tree, look at the area available to grow a tree and find trees that have a mature size that will fit inside that area. Also look for any objects that may be the the tree's way as it grows.

Also consider how the tree will be used. Will it act as a windbreak or as shade? Will it provide food or a habitat for wildlife? Will it be used as a landscape feature or as a background?

The city of Edmund, Oklahoma, shares this video to help its citizens plant the right trees in the right place.

Step 5

Plant Trees the Right Way

We won't have a large budget when it comes time to plant our new trees. We plan to purchase young trees that are between 3 and 5 feet tall. These smaller trees are easier to handle and the planting hole is much easier to dig. We'll also have the pleasure of watching the tree grow older through the years.

The health and growth of a tree depends in part on how well it is planted in the ground and the methods used to ensure that the tree will acclimate to its new home.

This video from the Tree People demonstrates how to dig the proper size hole for a tree and how to get a young tree off to a strong start with mulch and proper watering.

Step 6

Grow Trees in Containers

For the past four years, all of our gardening has been done in containers. Every single flower, vegetable, shrub and tree lives in a container. And, many will stay in their containers after they are moved to our new home. We may even add a few new container-grown trees to our plant collection.

Not everyone has the space to grow a full size shade tree. When space is limited or when it's not possible to plant a tree in the ground, grow a tree in a container.

Container-grown trees are perfect for patios or living rooms with cathedral ceilings. Trees grown in containers have special needs, require a little more care, grow slowly and can be moved from place to place.

The ladies at the DIGS Channel put together this video on the fun of growing fruit trees in containers.

Step 7

Prune to Keep Trees Healthy and Shapely

Our mass of a tree grown badly was the perfect example of why it is important to prune trees each year. If this tree had been pruned regularly, it may have been possible to keep it a manageable size and prevent it from overshadowing the water garden. Other trees on the property could have been spared a severe pruning if the dead limbs had been cut out years ago.

Trees must be pruned regularly to keep an attractive shape, control the size of the tree, remove dead limbs and protect buildings.

For smaller trees, it is possible to prune the tree yourself. A good handsaw is the easiest way to remove smaller branches. For larger trees, it may be safest to hire a professional arborist.

This video from Davey Tree, shows the proper way to prune a tree.

Step 8

Inspect for Pests and Diseases

A garden should be enjoyed every day. While we're out in our garden, we take a few minutes to smell the flowers, pull a few weeds and look for signs of pests. We try to prevent problems, not deal with problems after they're out of hand.

It is especially important that the health of our trees is constantly monitored and preventive measures taken at the first sign of pests or diseases. When a big tree gets sick, it can sometimes be impossible to treat.

This video from the University of Tennessee discusses several tree diseases that have caused irreparable damage to forests and also offers tips to keep pests from devastating our urban forests.

Step 9

Explore Urban Forestry

The state in which we live has an active Urban Forestry program and our small city is full of trees. Every city street is lined with shade trees. Neighborhoods are full of tree rows that block our hurricane force winds. Gardens grow large rooted trees to prevent soil erosion from heavy rains. Trees are everywhere and we love it!

The LEAF Workshop takes on us a tour of a backyard urban forest and discusses the benefits of a tree intensive community.

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What are your plans for Arbor Day?

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  • Mia-Mia Jun 09, 2014 @ 9:17 pm
    Thank you for some very important reminders about trees. I love trees, too, and hate to see them cut down, but sometimes it just has to be. Sniff, sob, sniff...
  • shamim063 May 02, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
    Many thanks for your huge useful and informative information. Really this is nice and the best for tree plantation.
  • jsr54 Apr 29, 2014 @ 9:52 pm
    Last year our air conditioner went out in the middle of the Texas summer. When the AC guy came to fix it, I was concerned at how hot it was outside, so I went to bring him some ice water. He was working in the shade of a tree my late husband strategically planted 15 years ago - to shade the air conditioning unit. Much patience is required to gain the benefits of tree plantings.

    Great lens with lots of valuable information, especially for first-time tree planters.
  • lollyj Apr 26, 2014 @ 10:53 am
    Loved this helpful lens. Well done, and congrats on LOTD.
  • RubyHRose Apr 24, 2014 @ 11:59 pm
    Congrats too on LotD. Thanks for the great list of videos, love the style.
  • RubyHRose Apr 24, 2014 @ 11:57 pm
    I really like your reminders to keep up with the pruning. Our wonderful yard of trees needs it badly. We hate cutting them, yet pruning them saves their lives, how true! A lot of logging has been going on lately near my home and oh how sad it makes me. It's not a complete clear cutting, yet, so much of it at once within the last 5 years or so. I will continue to support Arbor Day and take better care of the trees in my yard and do what I can to support saving more of the trees they continue to cut around here.
  • yusuf_maulana Apr 24, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
    great lens, love it :)
  • bloomingrose Apr 23, 2014 @ 3:29 am
    What an amazing lens. Thanks for all the helpful suggestions. I think your hidden garden was a wonderful reward for all your hard work!
  • Cercis Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:27 pm
    Congrats on your LOTD and for a very fine lens. I applaud the way you used videos clips with your how-to-do-it steps. Your lens is certainly well-timed for Arbor Day.
  • stajo82 Apr 22, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
    Lovable lens! As a forester I must say that you give very helpful tips here. Again, great informational lens! Let's plant another tree!
  • BearTale Apr 23, 2014 @ 5:46 pm
    Thank you, Stajo82! I'm ready to plant a forest of trees. I am so glad you found this helpful and useful.
  • CreativeArtist Apr 22, 2014 @ 1:15 pm
    Also consider the general upkeep of the trees. The house that we had purchased had a variety of fruit trees. We thought that was great at first, until too much of the fruit fell to the ground and attracted wasps. For us, we got rid of the trees, and I later planted wisteria. The birds and butterflies like it, and it is much more manageable.
  • rauspitz Apr 22, 2014 @ 1:06 pm
    Very informative lens. Congratulations on getting LotD!
  • Merrci Apr 22, 2014 @ 1:01 pm
    Congratulations on Lens of the Day! Great idea for a how-to, with so much info. Thanks.
  • Upon-Request Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
    Great tips - Congrats on LOTD
  • Artinspired Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:38 pm
    Congratulations on your lens of the day. Thanks for putting together all this great information.
    Happy Earth Day!
  • esmonaco Apr 22, 2014 @ 12:03 pm
    Congratulation on your LOTD, and a very informative lens ;)
  • Brite-Ideas Apr 22, 2014 @ 11:36 am
    congratulations on LOTD, and wonderful page as well
  • Graceonline Apr 22, 2014 @ 11:10 am
    Wonderfully instructive. Congratulations on your Earth Day LOTD. Richly deserved! Thank you for taking such good care of our natural environment and for sharing your knowledge so others can too.
  • StephenJParkin Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:45 am
    We love trees and have a really large yard (34 acres!) in it there are many trees and most are natural local species. I still learned a lot from your article and appreciate the difficulties bad plantings can cause. Well done on the LOTD.
  • TMI_PR Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:52 am
    Used to be so excited for Arbor Day back in primary school! There really needs to be more awareness about this important day- great article!
  • Wednesday_Elf Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:52 am
    Perfect page for Earth Day. Congratulations on receiving Lotd.
  • susan-zutautas Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:48 am
    Congratulations on LOTD! I am going to bookmark your lens as we have a lot of work to do on our trees and I'm sure your lens will help get us through it.
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 10:14 am
    Thank you, Susan! Have fun planting your new trees!
  • Steve_Kaye Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:08 am
    This is so important because the ideas go beyond the inferior biology of planting anything in the standard suburban setting. Thank you for publishing this lens. And congratulations on receiving the LOTD. I'm very impressed by the quality of this lens.
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:20 am
    Thank you very much, Steve! Yes, it really is important to consider everything about a tree before planting it in a urban landscape. I love how trees make our downtown neighborhoods feel like we live in the country. We also have a cool assortment of birds and other wildlife that live in those trees. I feel I have the best of both worlds--city living with country wildlife!
  • Susan52 Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:02 am
    The wildfire that consumed our house also burned dozens of our trees and dealing with that has been a challenge. I'm looking forward to additional grooming of the property this summer so we can add a few carefully-chosen, well-placed trees in the fall. Your tips are fabulous! Congratulations on a very worthy Lens of the Day!
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:04 am
    Susan, I am so sorry to hear about the fire but I am glad that you are safe. Wishing you all the best as you recover from such a tragedy. But, you will have so much fun watching your new trees grow up. Thank you for all of your support and encouragement!
  • d-artist Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:01 am
    Congratulations on LOTD! Excellent advice! We have many trees, some over 70 years old, the 100 year old Oak came down a few years back. I love lots of trees and won't let hubby cut any except the dead ones.
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 9:05 am
    Thank you, d-artist! It is sad when a tree has be be removed but also an opportunity to plant a new tree in its place. Enjoy your trees!
  • MissMerFaery Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:20 am
    Excellent advice! I hate cutting trees but we had to have a lovely branch cut off our oak because it was rotting inside and would have eventually rotted the whole tree. Congratulations on LOTD and happy Earth Day!
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:40 am
    Thank you, MissMerFaery! I'm with you, I don't like cutting trees. But, pruning is essential when trees are planted in neighborhoods and near homes. Dead wood is always a danger and must be removed. For big jobs, it is best to call a professional aborist.
  • biorra2 Apr 22, 2014 @ 7:55 am
    Great Tutorial :)
  • LynnKK Apr 22, 2014 @ 7:17 am
    We lost our boulevard tree this winter. The city cut it down because it had experienced severe damage during a storm last summer. Because of its leaf cover this Linden tree didn't show that its truck was split from about 20 feet up almost to the ground until late November (they hold their leaves usually till after it snows). I am calling the city's Forester Office today to arrange for stump removal and a new tree. Great lens! Congrats on LotD.
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:47 am
    Thank you, LynnKK! It is sad when a tree has to be removed. Sometimes it is necessary for the health of nearby trees and the safety of the neighbors. I'm glad you're calling your city's Forester Office to ensure that your tree project is done the right way!
  • Ruthi Apr 22, 2014 @ 7:05 am
    Happy Earth Day, dear one, and congratulations on writing this article so worthy of Squidoo Lens Of The Day!
  • melaniekaren Apr 22, 2014 @ 6:43 am
    This article makes me want to get out there and plant more trees! -great article loaded with helpful information :)
  • DreyaB Apr 22, 2014 @ 5:15 am
    I love trees too and often shed a tear if they have to be cut down, especially if it's a healthy tree just in the wrong place and badly planted. We've 'inherited' lots of trees with our new house and we're still adapting and working through the tangle of saplings and trees that have grown themselves. Wonderful page and congrats on LoTD. :0)
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:38 am
    Thank you, DreyaB! I'm sure we'll be struggling with tiny volunteer saplings for a few years, too! But, since we've removed the problem trees, I've noticed that some of the other trees are looking healthier now that they have room to breathe. Have fun with your backyard forest!
  • Scindhia Apr 22, 2014 @ 3:43 am
    Did not know there is so much to planting trees. Excellent suggestions!
  • RenaissanceWoman2010 Apr 22, 2014 @ 3:19 am
    Congrats on Lens of the Day! I will plant a tree in celebration.
  • nancycarol Apr 21, 2014 @ 10:27 pm
    This is a terrific lens for those wanting to plant trees on their land. As you point out, there are lots more things to consider, than just the looks of the tree. We made some mistakes too with our trees when we first planted, but realized some of our errors soon enough to take them out and replace with the correct trees. Excellent work on this lens.
  • BearTale Apr 22, 2014 @ 8:36 am
    Thank you, NancyCarol! Yes, there are a lot of things to consider when selecting a tree. It's not a decision that can be made in a few minutes while shopping the garden center. Planting a tree is a BIG decision.
  • smine27 Apr 16, 2014 @ 8:10 am
    Just reading this lens makes me want to plant trees. Great tutorial.
  • Sylvestermouse Apr 16, 2014 @ 12:03 am
    So many excellent suggestions and tips! While I was sitting back and reading here, I couldn't help but think how the little pond was probably glad to be rediscovered. It is always sad to have to remove a tree.

    We had a lot of storm damage to several of our trees last year. It just made me sick to have to watch one of them be cut down the rest of the way because it split right down the center of the trunk and broke. Just two weeks ago I was stunned to silence when I looked out my window and saw a sapling that grew over the winter where that big tree used to be and it was blooming for us. Small, delicate white blooms just as beautiful as the first tree gave for so many years.
  • BearTale Apr 16, 2014 @ 8:15 am
    Thank you, Sylvestermouse, for sharing your tree story. It is sad when we lose a tree but nature is persistent and perseveres. I hope you enjoy your little sapling and that it provides you with all of the enjoyment and benefits of its mother.
  • grammieo Apr 15, 2014 @ 11:33 pm
    Would like to plant more trees, but I dont have enough I will garden instead, making sure that everything that is growing, grows well.
  • BearTale Apr 16, 2014 @ 8:19 am
    Thank you for visiting, Grammieo! Growing a garden is just as important as growing trees. I'll be glad when we're done with the tree work so we can start our new garden.
  • Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:22 pm
    My plans are to protect the trees I have from gophers! They like the fruit trees we have planted.
  • RenaissanceWoman2010 Apr 15, 2014 @ 10:17 pm
    Thanks for the excellent advice. I can see where several new trees previously planted on my property died. I totally agree with the plant native tips you shared here. It is imperative that I plant some new trees since we are losing so many pines and aspens to the drought and the beetles. Like you, I would be upset to have to cut down a tree that was thoughtlessly planted.
  • BearTale Apr 16, 2014 @ 8:17 am
    Thank you for visiting, RenaissanceWoman! Yes, we found a few places where trees had been planted and died, too. It is sad. Best of luck with your new trees.
  • Wednesday_Elf Apr 15, 2014 @ 9:53 pm
    No plans as I live in an apartment now, but the complex has some lovely trees. I once planted a tree - a Dogwood - in my yard in another state to replace a badly overgrown & tangled bush that existed before we moved into the house. Later, living in Georgia, I planted a small palm tree and 20 years later it is tall and attractive and such a pretty complement to the yard. I no longer live there, but go by the house often.
  • Ruthi Apr 15, 2014 @ 9:50 pm
    Excellent advice for selecting the right trees for the right place to be planted! And it is so important to plant native trees. I plan to plant a native American wisteria for Arbor Day, and yes, will container plant it.
  • BearTale Apr 16, 2014 @ 8:20 am
    Thank you, Ruthi! I want to see pictures of your native wisteria! I am sure it will be beautiful!