New homes, regardless of their size and design, always look a bit naked until trees grow tall enough to frame the yard. However, adding trees to your landscape shouldn't be haphazard; think carefully about the ideal placement, size, shape, and growing habits of regional trees, as well as how the tree can work to enhance the beauty of your home. You (or at least you house) will be living with these trees for a lifetime, so take some care in choosing them.
The first question you'll want to ask yourself before you begin is: What's the purpose of this tree? Yes, you can plant a tree because it "looks pretty," but certainly there are other reasons for this type of landscape upgrade. According to the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers, a sound, mature tree can add from $1,000 to $10,000 to the value of your home.
A Tree Can Improve Your Home Life
One of the non-aesthetic ways a tree can improve the quality of life on your property is by saving you money. A good "shade tree" can dramatically impact a home's air conditioning requirements by blocking direct sunlight in the summer. The American Power Association estimates that effective landscaping can reduce a home cooling bill by up to 50%. Then, in the winter, your trees (especially Evergreens) can help block the wind, saving those precious BTUs. American Forests claims that trees placed appropriately around one's house can reduce the need for heating by 20% to 50%. Other benefits of a tree-lined property include their ability to keep erosion in check by virtue of their extensive roots, although you're unlikely to appreciate the value of this service like you might from the energy savings. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide, converting it to sweet, sweet oxygen. Two mature trees alone put out more oxygen than one human being consumes.
And while a self-imposed monument smack dab in the middle of a backyard may not seem like something that would provide entertainment, think back to your own childhood spent climbing trees, swinging on a tire swing, or in a tree house. As adults, many homeowners appreciate fruit-producing trees, although there are special ways to fertilize, spray, and harvest these fruit-bearing trees. (Your County Extension Service would be a good place to contact for such information.) And lastly, certain types of trees can provide privacy for your family activities, in a much more pleasant way than a fence.
Choosing the Right Tree For Your Home
Not every tree works in every location. The first level of differentiation is of course geographical. The nation is broken up into hardiness zones by climate, and you'll need to find out what trees work in your area. An Eastern Redbud, for example, won't thrive in Florida, and you don't want to plant a Live Oak in Minnesota. The Arbor Day organization has a helpful guide to trees that thrive across the nation.
Moreover, do you want a deciduous or coniferous? That is, do you want a tree that drops its leaves in the fall or one that stays evergreen during the winter? When used as a windbreak, for example, the latter is much more useful. It's also important to consider the size of the tree you'll plant. A 20-foot tree may look out of place as a prime front-yard tree. Likewise a 75-foot monster like the Yellow Buckeye might skew the proportions of a smaller home. Check the mature size of your tree before selecting. You'll also want to consider the shape of a planted tree, and what will most flatter the size and shape of your property. Do you want to plant a rounded, conical, or horizontal shaped tree, like the arborvitae? It's crucial to spend time thinking about what fits your lot and goes with your home.
If you're a low-maintenance homeowner, then you will want to pay close attention to whether a tree sheds a lot. Sycamores, for example, drop bark and leaves the size of pie pans. Meanwhile, the Chinese Elm regularly drop whole branches; some sweet gum trees drop spiked balls that can be maddening to pick up. (Hint: Use a shop vac.) And in the fall, most deciduous trees will drop their leaves, necessitating some time spent with a rake or leaf blower. (But aren't the changing colors worth a little elbow grease from you your teenaged offspring?) There are, however, trees like the Thornless Honeylocust that have leaves too tiny to rake and small enough that they can be left on the grass to decompose over the winter, unless you're particular about your lawn.
The root habits of the tree are also important if you're planting near a sidewalk or driveway. The Silver Maple is notorious for shallow roots that pop up all over the lawn and thrust cracks through asphalt and concrete. Moreover, if you live in an urban area, your city government may prohibit certain tree varieties that are brittle and frequently fall on power lines in strong wind. Also a concern for city dwellers is a tree's ability to stand up to urban pollution, including air pollution and salt runoff from snow and ice removal. And to avoid any future heartache resulting from a sick tree, you can check your local County Extension Service to see what varieties are prone to tree diseases in your area. Sadly over the years, many magnificent trees have given in to disease, like the once-ubiquitous elm that gave in to the Dutch Elm disease. At present, the Emerald Ash Borer is making mincemeat of the nation's Ash tree supply.
A tree is not a casual purchase, because it can eventually make a huge difference in the value of your property. Additionally, you'll be looking at it for many years to come, so why plant one that will turn out to be an ugly aggravation? Rather than making a hasty decision, decide carefully so you can add a green companion to your home that you'll come to treasure. Luckily, there's still plenty of time to get it planted before winter arrives.