Monday, February 14, 2022

Plan for a Better Spring: Selecting the right species of trees for your property

bur oak trees

Looking for a way to enhance property value, save energy costs, boost mental health, and help the planet in one simple, low-cost step? Yeah, me too. Let me know if you think of something. Seriously, though, a few well-placed trees in one’s yard typically add at least 5% to a property’s value. Having large older specimens (of trees, I mean) around the house can push that figure close to 20%. In terms of energy savings, deciduous trees on the southern and western sides of a house tend to slash cooling costs by roughly one-quarter.

Trees enrich our lives in subtle ways too. We recover from surgeries and illnesses more rapidly if there are trees in view out our window. Crime rates drop when neighborhoods are planted with trees. Plus, lying under trees might cure acne. OK, not sure on that one. Giving genuine thought to site and species selection is critical to the long-term survival of landscape trees, and right now is an ideal time to plan for success. Any given location will be great for some trees, yet awful for others. Poor drainage, exposure to deicing salt, restricted root area, overhead wires, and shade are but a few possible constraints. Any of these attributes alone can lead to the decline and eventual death of certain trees.

On the other hand, that there are species and cultivars able to mature and thrive no matter what limitations a site has. “Right tree, right place” is an arborist mantra. We have others, like “please clean the dog poop before I come look at your tree,” but I digress. The point is that sometimes you shouldn’t plant that mountain ash, birch clump, or crabapple right where you had in mind. But somewhere else on the property could be perfect. If you only have one available site, there are always plenty of great selections able to live long and prosper there. One of my favorite resources on landscape tree selection is a free booklet put out by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute, and written largely by my former colleague Nina Bassuk. You can get it at

No, I’m not at all biased – why do you ask? Also, Tree Canada has an excellent resource page at
planting/. Given our long winters, it’s good to have trees with off-season aesthetic interest. Here are just a few ideas: Hawthorns are salt-tolerant native trees maturing at around 20’; good for under utility lines. ‘Winter King’ has copious persistent fruit that look great in winter and provide bird food. River birch are medium-large trees with attractive and unusual pinkish-white exfoliating bark. ‘Heritage’ is resistant to many pests and diseases. Kentucky coffeetrees are tall and drought-tolerant, with few pests or diseases. Their coarse-textured branches produce a striking winter effect. For spacious sites, bur oak has twisting branches with corky wings. A bur oak silhouette in winter is breathtaking. Especially if it’s real cold. These massive trees tolerate both drought and intermittent flooding, and can live hundreds of years.

Photo of bur oak courtesy of Cemx86, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996. His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine.

You can read more of his work at or by picking up a copy of his book Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World

3 Responses

  1. Everett mcneill says:

    Can’t wait for success with the American chestnut programs. Write about that next!

  2. Stephen Daniels says:

    I wonder if Dr. Bassuk is as much of a Norway Maple apologist as Paul is? 🙂

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