EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was written for the Grand Forks Herald's Spring Home Improvement section.
Whether offering a shady spot to relax on a hot summer’s day, adding a pop of color to the yard or sheltering a patio from being buffeted by wind, trees are an integral part of landscaping.
But before homeowners weigh those considerations, they should first test the soil in their yard, said Scott Kiel, All Seasons Garden Center landscape designer.
“The best thing they can do before they plant a tree is to get a soil sample, so they know what is down there, so they can get the right tree in the right place,” Kiel said. For example, many customers want to plant maple trees in their yards, but aren’t aware that maple trees need iron, and if they don’t have it in their soil the maple tree’s leaves will yellow in summer.
“To maintain the greenness, they need to put down iron,” he said.
Once homeowners know a yard's soil type, they can make decisions about whether they’re seeking shade trees, ones that will decorate the landscape or trees to serve as windbreaks, landscape designers say.
For example, if adding decorative features to the yard is the most important role a tree will play in a customer’s landscaping, Sarah Krogfoss, landscape designer at Tim Shea’s Nursery and Landscaping, recommends they plant an ornamental flowering tree, such as a Spring Snow Flowering crabapple tree, which produces white, showy flowers in the spring, but doesn’t produce fruit that falls and creates a mess in the yard.
The crabapple tree is a good choice for a front yard because, besides being ornamental, it doesn’t grow larger than 25 feet high and from 15 to 18 feet wide, Krogfross said.
Another option that provides color is Pink Spires Flowering Crabapple, Kiel said. The crabapple variety has fragrant pink blossoms with lavender overtones, and it produces clusters of only one or two pea-sized fruit.
Besides color considerations, another factor Kiel suggests customers think about is whether they want a tree to provide shade.
If that’s the determining factor, hackberry, linden and Ohio buckeye trees are good choices, Kiel said. Conifers also are an option.
“Evergreens, you've got color year-round,” Kiel said. Besides traditional evergreens, there are other types such as white weeping spruce, which grows to 12 feet high and is only 3 to 4 feet wide, and can be tucked into the corner of a house.
The amount of space the tree will take up in the yard is another thing Kiel and Krogfoss suggest homeowners consider.
“Most of your trees, if you’re planting them in the yard, you want them to be about 30 feet apart so they will maintain their shape,” Kiel said. Crowding the trees will result in them growing into a tall, narrow shape, rather than branching out into a round shape, he noted.
If wind protection is a consideration, homeowners should be aware that conifer trees offer more than some deciduous trees do, Krogfoss said.
“If you have wind in the yard, and want to be able to sit on the patio, evergreens are a better choice," she said. Homeowners should keep in mind, though, that evergreen trees drop needles that are acidic and can damage grass. Mulch spread around the base of the evergreens will cover up the bare spots, Krogfoss noted.
Spreading mulch that is 2 inches thick around a 2-foot-wide circumference of the tree is a good idea when planting any type of tree; doing so will reduce the possibility of nicking the tree during mowing, Kiel said. The mulch should be spread up to the base of the tree, but not touching it.
Trees aren't fussy about being planted at a certain time of year, Krogfoss said
"Anytime is a good time to plant. Spring is great. Fall is great. You can plant in the summer, too,” she said.