Worcester Tree Initiative
AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
Worcester Tree Initiative
AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
Right Tree Right Place Part 2
In part two of the Right Tree Right Place blog series we’re exploring another important step in the pre-planting process, asking yourself why you want to plant a tree. Now, there are a host of reasons you should plant a tree but you probably don’t have all of them in mind. In fact, you may only have one thing in mind, like I want shade, or privacy, or something pretty for the yard. These are your #TREEGOALS, and in this post I’m going to talk about a few of the common tree goals and make some tree recommendations for each one.
1. #TREEGOALS = SHADE
Does your house get too hot during the summer? What if instead of turning on the air conditioner you planted a tree to block the sunlight from coming through the window and you opened that window to let a breeze in? Trees are great at keeping us cool in the summer and it’s one of my goals for the tree that I planted at my house. There’s one side of my house that gets baked by the afternoon sun and I’m hoping to change that as the tree I planted grows up. It will take a few years but a shade tree that starts at 6 or 7 feet tall can be up to 20 after 5 years! In the right place it will be shading your house in no time.
You should consider the principles of passive solar when choosing a tree for shade. The sun does a great job of warming a place up. Too good of a job in summer sometimes but sun in the winter can be welcome to a house, reducing the need to run the heater. Passive solar is an ideology that says we should harness the sun’s energy by orienting buildings toward the sun to maximize the ability to use the sun’s heat, which also lends itself to harnessing its energy via solar panels. But since extra heat isn’t always welcome in summer it’s smart to try to block the sun when it’s too hot but let the sun hit the house when it’s not. Thus, a tree that loses it’s leaves in the fall a good choice for the job.
So what should you plant?
Red Oak – Oak trees are fantastic shade trees. They are tall, strong, and long lived. And yes, they drop acorns, but depending on how you see it, that may be a redeeming quality! Oak trees can be counted on to grow tall and wide with large spreading limbs that won’t easily break. Their dense canopies will be helpful for casting shade on your house and their branches will look beautiful in winter.
American Linden – Not big on acorns but still want a big tree? The American linden is a great choice for you. This tree’s “fruit” is kind of like a maple’s helicopter seed. It’s got nice big leaves, and will grow tall and strong like the oak tree with a slightly different canopy shape.
Redbud – This is not actually considered a “shade tree”. It’s usually thought of as an ornamental tree because it only grows to about 30 feet with a similar spread. But ornamental trees can still block sunlight, just not as much as a bigger tree. But you could plant a few smaller trees next to one another to get similar effects to the taller shade tree’s spread and after 10-15 years the tree should even be able to cast shade on a second story room. And using these smaller trees alleviates concerns about blocking sun for solar panels and possible damage if an overhanging limb fell on the house. However, it should be noted that in general larger trees are more valuable for most purposes (such as taking up storm water, providing ecological value, and adding value to your property) but for this particular case you could use several smaller trees to achieve the same goal.
2. #TREEGOALS = PRIVACY
If you’d rather not give people the chance to see through your window and you’d rather not see the cars passing by or hear them then you need a wall, a fence, or, better yet, a hedge. Hedges are a fantastic way to make your house into your own personal palace of peace. Hedges come in all shapes and sizes and depending on your personal preference you can keep them short or let them grow tall. As tree lovers we prefer tall.
Hedges have the added benefit of being dense with branches and foliage making them excellent at blocking other things besides vision such as noise. Street noise can be distracting and annoying but a thick wall of vegetation can help with that. The plants get in the way of the sound waves just like a stone wall would which can help to keep things a little quieter. I should add however, that it’s not like it makes your property soundproof, you will still be able to hear your neighbors and they’ll still be able to hear you if you or they talk or play music loudly. The visual barrier can help us to forget that we live near other people for both the better and the worse.
The dense wall of vegetation in a hedge has at least one additional benefit which is that it is really good at holding on to storm water. We mentioned this term in regards to eastern white pine, storm water means just what is sounds like, it’s basically rain water. We think of this as dirty water, but rain water itself while not clean isn’t dangerous; it’s what that water picks up when it hits the ground and what we do with it that’s a problem.
When it rains you can think of it as kind of like washing the earth, it comes down and then it starts to move along the ground. Along the way it picks up oil and brake dust from our cars, fertilizers and pesticides from our lawns, plus pet waste, litter, and more lovely gunk. This urban cocktail has to go somewhere, which usually means down the drain in the city. Once it’s down there we don’t usually think of it again but it doesn’t stop. From there it goes to its final destination which is usually a pond/stream, as it does in my neighborhood. This becomes problematic for the health of the water bodies that they flow into which usually has a chain effect as it all moves down stream and accumulates. That’s why it’s important to try and stop stormwater at the source by having open (unpaved) ground where it can soak in and plants to help soak it up. The plants also can hold that water on their leaves and in their bark, slowing its progress to the ground and even preventing it from getting there.
So what trees are good for making these vastly useful hedges?
Arborvitae – Though it pains me to list this tree, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. Arborvitae, also known as Northern White Cedar, is one of the most commonly used plants used for hedges. As such is it is completely over represented in the landscape meaning that if a pest were ever to come through that had really devastating impacts on it we would lose A LOT of trees. That being said, they are dense, evergreen plants that come in a variety of sizes and they do their job of blocking views and sounds, and soaking up the rain.
Fir Trees– Fir trees make excellent hedges and border plantings. They will get taller and wider than arborvitae so they need space. They can be sheared to maintain a smaller size and promote bushier growth but leave this to a professional, if you take off too much growth or do it at the wrong time you’re going to end up with a bunch of sad, dead branches and then you’ve defeated the purpose of planting in the first place.
There are several varieties of fir trees available including white, balsam, fraser, and Korean. I choose firs specifically instead of the similar spruce trees because of one key difference which is that their needles don’t hurt! If you’re planting or pruning, or just walking by a spruce it will let you know with scratches or pricks to your skin.
Serviceberry – This is not a traditional choice for hedging but I choose it knowing that deciduous trees are used for hedges. A thick row of serviceberry, specifically a variety that branches more closely to the ground, can be sheared to the desired form which will promote density, and allowed to grow together and intertwine in ways not usually encouraged in street trees but more than welcome here. A serviceberry hedge will have nice fall color, and a lot of wildlife value, producing fruit in the spring, and shelter year round. One potential downside to this selection is that when it loses its leaves it may be less visually appealing.
3.#TREEGOALS = BEAUTY
This last #TREEGOAL is definitely the most common goal we see. People plant trees because they look nice. Whether that means they love the flowers, the bark, the shape, etc, there’s something attractive about trees, especially well maintained trees. And actually, that attractive look can do more for you than just make you feel good about your yard, it can increase the value of your house. The numbers vary, some say thousands, others say a thousand. The variables tend to be size and condition but species can matter too since some trees are show offs and others are a little more plain.
A general rule of thumb is a bigger tree is seen as more valuable in the eyes of a buyer but a big tree with a bunch of dead or broken limbs will be a liability instead of an asset. A mature flowering tree that’s been well taken care of would do the same. Flowers are almost always popular; think redbuds, dogwoods, and flowering cherries. But on some species bark can be very attractive too, like paper birch trees, which alas, we can’t plant, or beech trees, which we can plant!
When you’re planting for beauty you’ll be the ultimate judge of what strikes your fancy. For a more comprehensive list of trees you can plant check out the “Trees Available” page under the resources tab at treeworcester.org.