Tree Selection Tips

June 15, 2012

A guide to picking and planting trees


By Jeff McMann

Whether you live in the city or the country, odds are trees have always been an integral part of your landscape. Perhaps this is why most of us take these impressive plants for granted. While we are often encouraged to ‘stop and smell the roses,’ we rarely take time to think about the importance of trees in our lives and landscapes.

The value of trees

Trees play several important roles in our environment. The very air we breathe is improved by the presence of trees—during the process of photosynthesis, tree leaves absorb light from the sun and combine water with carbon dioxide from the air, to form sugars and nutrients for the tree. The process also gives off oxygen in return. Trees also absorb, trap and filter harmful pollutants such as smoke and dust, making our air cleaner, while also attracting, feeding and providing homes for birds and other wildlife.

Trees provide shade in the summer and shelter in winter. In fact, trees planted around your home can even help reduce heating and cooling costs. During summer, trees can block the sun and have a cooling effect on us and our homes. Well-placed trees can also buffer noise from nearby neighbours and passing vehicles, and can reduce glare and provide shade and shelter from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Trees also add beauty to a landscape. How often do we drive up north to look at the autumn colours? Even during winter, the snow and ice that settle on branches provide visual interest. Also, the psychological impact of trees is strong, whether we realize it or not. Plants in general create a feeling of relaxation by reducing stress. If nothing else, they give us an excuse to sit back, close our eyes and relax while listening to the wind rustle though the leaves.

From a landscaping perspective, trees often provide the backbone around which a property is designed. In fact, the mere presence of healthy, well-established trees can increase the property value of your home. IMG_4828[2]

All trees are not created equal

While any tree can contribute greatly to the overall look of your home, you still need to select the right variety and make sure it is planted in the proper location. Trees are a long-term investment; you or your landscape designer must take time to carefully plan a tree’s place within the landscape before planting. For example, you might want to avoid planting any large fruited trees close to pools, spas and decks, as they can potentially stain or damage water features and hardscapes.

Any new tree plantings should be made at a distance from any pool or spa. Exactly how close you can plant the tree depends on its variety and growth habits. Any holes dug for planting should be at least two to three times the width of the root ball. The top of the root flare (level of the soil around the base of tree) should be at the same height as the surrounding soil. This will set the tree a minimum distance from the pool or spa under ideal conditions.

To avoid future problems, learning as much as possible about the tree species’ characteristics before planting is very important. Ask about the tree you are interested in and research it carefully. The following tips will help you narrow down your options.

Plan for the future

Before picking a tree, investigate the size it will be when it is fully grown. Ensure the height and width of the mature tree will not overpower or become lost amidst other landscape elements (e.g. pools, spas, gazebos, etc.).

Pick your spots

As previously mentioned, avoid planting trees with fruit near pools, decks and paving. Also steer clear of planting trees too close to your house. In these cases, consider using smaller trees or shrubs. Examine the sunlight and shade the site receives and choose varieties based on their tolerance to those conditions.

Location, location, location

Find out if the selected tree variety is well suited to your landscape’s geographic location. Although many trees are quite robust and capable of surviving in many places, not all of them will flourish under all conditions. Consult with friends, neighbours or professionals about what has worked in nearby yards. Also look for trees that are indigenous to the area, to help ensure healthy and strong growth.

With so many new choices and cultivars available, it is always possible to find a variety that will fit your landscape’s requirements, both now and as the tree matures.

[BIO:] Jeff McMann is a certified International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) arborist based in the Greater Toronto Area, with nearly 30 years of industry experience in landscape construction and maintenance. He is also a graduate of the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture. McMann can be reached at

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