Whether you’re creating a landscape design for a new home or simply replacing a tree that was lost in a storm, trees are the largest and longest-lasting features of any yard.  Therefore, you want to be sure that you’re selecting something that will meet your needs now and in the future.

Before you begin tree shopping, it will be important to analyze your needs and wants.  What are you hoping to accomplish with this tree? Probably the most common answer to this question is shade.  Trees are an obvious choice if you want to shade a certain area of your yard, but trees can also achieve many other objectives such as creating privacy between your home and the neighbors’ houses.  Flowering trees or those that feature brilliant fall foliage can create stunning visual centerpieces in your landscape design. Other goals for landscaping with trees might include holding soil in a particular area of your yard or even attracting wildlife such as birds and squirrels.

Once you’ve identified your needs and wants, it’s time to evaluate your soil, climate, and desired location for the tree.  Some trees, like crab apples, require a rich, well drained soil. Others such as box elder and gingko are more tolerant of poor soil.  For areas with very moist soil, consider a species like willow, which will thrive near drains, streams, and riverbanks.

Climate is also an important consideration.  If you don’t know what USDA zone you live in, call your local extension office and find out.  All plants are rated as hardy down to a certain zone, and you’ll want to be sure you don’t spend money on something that won’t survive the winter or tolerate the heat in your area.  It’s also a good idea to always buy from local nurseries and tree farms. Sometimes large stores with garden centers will get trees shipped in from areas that have very different climates.  If you live in Iowa, for example, a maple or oak would be a good hardy tree in your area. However, buying a young oak that came from a tree farm would not be a good idea, because the tree might have trouble weather its first winter after being transplanted.

Finally, consider the location on your property where you intend to plant the tree.  The size of the area is of great importance. One of the biggest reasons why trees have to be chopped down is because they have outgrown the space where they were planted, a result of the homeowner’s poor planning when selecting the variety of tree.  Measure the maximum width that the tree will have to spread out, and then look for trees that will grow no larger than that size. Keep in mind that you don’t want branches overhanging a garage or your home, nor do you want branches tickling the power lines or your home’s siding.

Once you’ve got all this information put together, it’s time to do some research.  A trip to the library should yield a vast number of books that will provide resources on trees.  Look for a book that details many species of trees and outlines their fully grown size, soil requirements, zone hardiness, and growth rate.  Lacking such a resource, you may also be able to get good information from your extension office or a reputable nursery.

By taking the time to evaluate your needs, you will assure that the tree you plant will fit well in your yard, thrive in your climate, and enjoy a long life of meeting yours and your family’s needs.