The Best Trees for Landscaping

Couple planting tree
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If you're trying to add some greenery to your yard or subdivision, there are dozens of excellent trees from which to pick. The best are robust, native varieties that provide shade and color without requiring too much maintenance. Before making your final decision, study the characteristics of the trees below to determine which one is best suited to your needs.

What Makes a Good Landscaping Tree

The best trees for landscaping are those that are native to North America and thrive within large geographical ranges. These hardy varieties will endure through the years and support other plants and wildlife. Exotics, while beautiful, tend to have one of two problems: they either go on to develop health problems (becoming insect-infested, diseased, and brittle) or they become a green scourge that threatens native trees and plants. Sometimes they have both problems. These trees also become very large and require significant space to support them.

The Best Trees for Landscaping

The trees below all make great yard trees within the limits of their potential habitats and growth constraints. They come highly recommended by horticulturists and landscapers.

  • Red Maple: The red maple is native to America's east coast. Arthur Plotnik, in "The Urban Tree Book," writes that it "has become one of the Nation's favorite—if not the hardiest—street trees."
  • Yellow Poplar or Tuliptree: Known for its unique leaves, which become quite colorful in the fall, the yellow poplar is found throughout cities across America. Horticulturist Michael Dirr says that "it is hard not to bump into a tulip tree in the course of one's horticultural travels."
  • Red and White Oak: "Among the 600 or so oak species," Arthur Plotnick writes, "an elite few of these, in the right place at the right time, have inspired the kind of awe and legend attached to gods and heroes. Such trees are mainly of the white oak group."
  • Flowering Dogwood: Found in the eastern United States and southern Ontario, the flowering dogwood is famous for its small red and white flowers. Guy Sternberg, author of "Native Trees for North American Landscapes," says it may be "the most spectacular flowering tree native to our region."
  • Sycamore: A hardy tree with dark reddish brown bark, the sycamore is found in the eastern and central United States.
  • American Elm: Another tough tree, the American elm is, in the words of Guy Sternberg, "massive, long-lived, tough, easy to grow, adaptable and blessed with an arching, wine-glass-like silhouette, making it the perfect street tree."
  • River Birch: Unlike other birches, the river birch has excellent heat tolerance, making it perfect for warmer climates in the southeastern United States.
  • American Holly: According to Michael Dirr, the American holly is considered "the finest tree-type evergreen holly. Over the years, more than 1000 cultivars have been named."

No Tree Is Perfect

Remember, all yard trees have both good and bad characteristics. It is a rare tree that will satisfy your needs throughout its entire lifespan on a given site. A tree can outgrow its original purpose very quickly or grow into its intended purpose very slowly. Understanding this concept is the key to proper tree planting in your yard.

It is extremely important for you to understand that your tree needs early attention after planting and correct care as it matures. You may permanently harm your tree through incorrect placement or improper care.