Magazine article American Forests

Best "Sleeper" Yard Trees for Your Area

Magazine article American Forests

Best "Sleeper" Yard Trees for Your Area

Article excerpt

Are you thinking about planting a tree in your yard or garden anytime soon? Before you rush out to your local nursery and buy the same kind of tree your neighbor planted, think twice. There are good reasons to consider a few lesser known species that will stand out from the crowd.

An unusual tree or two can make your yard more interesting aesthetically, increase its ecological health, and boost the number and species of wildlife that come around. By planting different kinds of trees, you will make your yard less susceptible to devastation by insects and lessen the odds of losing a number of trees all at once to drought, high winds, or other natural occurrences.

Carefully choosing the right tree for the right place rather than automatically selecting from the more common species will be worth the extra effort. Your tree, with a little care in planting and maintenance, will thrive in its location and distinguish your yard from your neighbor's. There is no "right" answer to the question," What tree is the best to plant?" But some species are better for shading, some for accenting areas around gardens, some for limited space requirements, and some for dry sites. The first step is to figure out exactly what you want from the tree--the purpose you want it to serve and the qualities you're looking for. After that, you can check the characteristics of individual species to see if that kind of tree will meet your expectations, grow well in your area, and fit conditions on your lot.

The best choice may not be a native tree. Dr. Frank Santamour of the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, notes that few if any native trees have evolved in the compacted construction debris that serves as soil in many communities. It may be best to go with an exotic species that performs well on difficult sites.

Once you've done your homework, you'll probably end up with a fairly extensive list containing some popular, perhaps more run-of-the-mill trees plus some that are less well known. Before abandoning the ones you don't know how to pronounce, check them out with your local nurseyman, forester, Extension agent, or arboretum. Those "oddball" species might be exactly what you're looking for.

One frequent complaint voiced by tree shoppers is that local nurseries do not offer many of the unusual species. Unfortunately, but understandably, many people simply resign themselves to choosing what the nursery does have in stock and give up the hope of planting the tree they originally wanted. No easy solution exists to this problem; nurseries, like other businesses, stock the products that sell the best.

If you are interested in a tree your local firm doesn't carry, ask if the nursery can order it for you. You can also search mail-order catalogs, which often have larger selections than local nurseries do. When buying through the mail, you may have to settle for a smaller tree than you might prefer, but methods do exist for accelerating growth. With techniques such as using tree shelters to speed up nature, you can get the size of tree you want more quickly than you might think.

We interviewed a number of experts in different areas of the country to find out which trees they would like to see planted more often in their region. These professionals agree that of the many species that thrive in the different climatic zones of the United States, a number are underplanted. For the most part, these less-popular varieties grow as well as--or better than--the more commonly planted trees and frequently offer the diversity our urban and suburban forests need. What's more, many of these species have unusual characteristics that help them adapt to unique site conditions.

The experts we contacted gave some tree recommendations that may or may not be the ones you choose to plant in your yard. But the advice will provide insight into the numerous possibilities and choices you have when selecting a tree. …

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