Choosing the best landscape tree for your home or garden

Selecting and planting a landscape tree (or trees) is probably one of the most difficult decisions a homeowner makes. Trees can be expensive, and many have undesirable characteristics that can appear once they’re established and can be a pain to remove. A well-chosen tree can add value to your home and provide beauty, shade, and maybe even food for you or the local wildlife.

When shopping for landscape trees, the first consideration is its function. Do you desire shade on your patio? Do you need protection from strong wind? Are you trying to find a way to improve privacy? Do you want an interesting focal point in your landscape?

If you’re looking for shade, consider the tree’s potential location, especially if you have or are planning on installing rooftop solar. I can’t tell you how many houses I’ve seen where all or most of the solar panels are shaded by large trees. Those homeowners obviously are not getting the full benefit of their solar system investment. A large shade tree can reduce your air conditioning bills in the summer, but not as much as a functioning solar system can. If you want the benefits of shade and an efficient solar system, consider the mature height of the tree before planting.

Deciduous trees for shade should be planted on the south- or west-facing side of a property. When their leaves are gone in the winter the sun will be available to provide warmth.

Evergreen trees are frequently used for windbreaks. Many species are fast-growing, and their dense canopies and relatively flexible branches make them good choices.

Sometimes it’s the lack of certain negative traits that dictate tree choice. Invasive roots can be a huge drawback, especially for smaller properties. Sewer and irrigation lines can become clogged, or sidewalks broken from tree roots. Builders seem to be fond of planting these shallow-rooted (but fast-growing) trees in new housing tracts.

Palm trees have fibrous, non-invasive roots, but they have their own drawbacks. They need to be trimmed professionally once they get big, and rats are quite fond of them. A palm tree planted close to the house provides easy access to the eaves and possibly the attic. If you have a rat problem in the attic, consider removing any tree (especially palm) that allows them access to the roof.