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Best "sleeper" yard trees for your area.

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 <tdo> 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.

For simplicity's sake, we've divided the country into eight regions based on general soil and climatic conditions. Some variability in conditions will occur within each region, and not all of the trees listed in the table at the end of each section will grow well in every part of that region. For more detailed information, contact your state forestry agency, Cooperative Extension Service rep, or community forester or horticulturist.


(ME, NH, VT, MA, NY, CT, RI, PA, NJ)

When many people envision the northeastern part of the country, they think of cold winters, wet springs, and hot, humid summers. With so much moisture, it would seem natural if the only worry about young trees were that of frosbite, not stress from a spell of insufficient rainfall. But drought can happen here. In addition, hot summer temperatures and cold snaps in the spring and fall can also deprive a tree of water.

Placing mulch around the base of young trees is often a good way to hold moisture for the roots and protect them from frost. There are some tricks to laying down good mulch. Normally, mulch is spread in an even layer around the trunk, but if you live in a particularly dry area or you are in the middle of a drought, try making a lip (berm) around the edge of the mulch circle. This procedure will keep rainwater within reach of the young roots. If conditions change, however, and your yard begins receiving, a lot of rain, check the mulch circle to make sure excessive water isn't draining, toward the trunk. If the mulch is waterlogged, reduce the berm so that less water is collected.

Clyde Hunt of the U.S. Forest Service not only recommends these helpful planting tips, he also suggests that before you plant a new tree, take a look at a couple of the species that are less common in the Northeast. The Turkish hazel tree, for one, is an unusual species that is not plagued by insects and disease and grows well throughout the Northeast and into the plaint states. It has a conical, symmetrical crown and is great to plant in yards and along streets where its branches won't tend to grow high enough to interfere with electric wires. Bluejays and squirrels gather the hazelnuts in the fall, and planting this tree can bring an abundance of wildlife to your yard.

The willow oak will also attract birds, squirrels, and other critters, which come to eat the abundant acorns. This oak reportedly grows more slowly in northern sites than in the South, and for the best results it is important to plant trees grown from local seed. The yellow, brown, and russet colors of the fall leaves make this species worth the extra wait.


(DE, MD, WV, VA, NC, SC)

States in the Mid-Atlantic region, known as the Piedmont States, have a range of soil types from hard-packed clay to loose and sandy soil. Most of the region, however, is dominated by clay or similar soils that trap rainwater instead of allowing it to drain through <tdo> properly. Standing pools of undrained precipitation, coupled with high average summer rainfall, can cause problems with poor soil aeration and root rot. Humid summers also contribute to root rot because the air is already saturated with moisture and cannot soak up any excess rainwater standing in pools around the trunk.

Dr. J.C. Raulston of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stationed at North Carolina State University, recommends <tdo> that residents of this region plant trees that are water-tolerant and can handle stress from waterlogged, clay soils. Popular species such as Bradford pear and honeylocust have proven to do well in these soil conditions, but other less-common trees do equally well.

The lacebark elm or Chinese elm (not to be confused with the Siberian elm, which is commonly sold in nurseries under the name Chinese elm) is a stress-tolerant tree that thrives from coast to coast and from Nebraska to Florida. It can handle periods of drought as well as times of excess moisture and has the scale and texture to look good in many urban situations. The elm, like the more popular honeylocust, is a shade tree, but the lacebark supplies dense shade rather than the filtered or partial shade provided by the honeylocust. Also unlike the locust, the lacebark is resistant to many insects and diseases, including Dutch elm disease.

The Japanese flowering apricot, another lesser-known species, also adapt easily to moist soil conditions and humid summers. The apricot flowers sometime around January and can keep your yard in bloom year-round. Because it blooms in the off season, the apricot is an excellent tree to use as a screen. Planted in conjunction with deciduous trees that are leafted out and covered with flowers in the spring and summer, the apricot can be as effective a screen as a leyland cypress and other evergreens that are commonly planted around the periphery of a yard.


(GA, FL, AL, MS, LA, AR, KY, TN)

Norman Easey of the Sarasota County, Florida, Forestry Division explains that parts of the southeastern United States experience periodic droughts that can last for years. The lack of water is a further problem in towns where watering of lawns and gardens is restricted. A major consideration for selecting a tree here, then, is making sure the species you choose is drought tolerant.

Generally, a drought-tolerant tree is one that can survive solely on rainwater and does not rely on human watering for growth. Trees native to the Southeast grow hardily in this climate of unpredictable rainfall and adapt easily to the sandy soils that make up much of the region.

Trees near the margin of the subtropics can appear to be doing well in their first planting season and then die the following spring from lack of water. To make sure your tree survives to maturity, Easey suggests watering the new tree regularly the spring after planting, as well as during its first year. A spring drought, common in the Southeast, can kill a young tree that has not yet had time to establish its root system.

One outstanding tree for the southern garden is the baldcypress. It is one of the few native conifers that loses its leaves in the fall (and is thus "bald" in the winter), which exposes its attractive reddish-brown bark. But during most of the year its delicate and feathery sprays of leaves, which turn bright orange before dropping, will provide an excellent accent for any yard.

Only in wet areas does this common swamp species exhibit the characteristic buttress at the base. The baldcypress actually grows well in any soil, dry or wet, except the most alkaline. The tree maintains a pyramidal shape when young but can grow up to 100 feet tall: Do not plant this tree near overhead electric wires. Despite its height, the baldcypress is known to withstand winds of hurricane force--an important consideration for the Southeast.


(OH, IN, IL, MO, IA, MN, MI, WI)

George Ware, a horticulturist at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois notes that the arboretum has published


a 24-page pamphlet describing trees that grow well in the central Illinois area. The pamphlet gives helpful suggestions for selecting, planting, and caring for trees and even contains a section listing "trees that should be planted more often." (To obtain a copy of the pamphlet, sent $1 for shipping and handling to Selecting and Planting Trees, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL 50532.)

Dr. Ware informs us that like the Mid-Atlantic region, much of the Midwest is composed of compact, clay soils. The Midwest, however, has the added problem of a flat landscape, which intensifies the problem of spring rains collecting in standing pools of water around a tree's roots if it is not planted correctly. Standing water delays root growth by isolating the roots from the oxygen they need to grow and keeping them cold well into the summer, when they should be warming up from their winter freeze.

When root development is slowed in the spring, the trees fails to produce rootlets, the small hair-size follicles that sprout from the main roots and account for mos of the tree's water-and nutrient-gathering ability. In the hot summer, even a small drought can kill a tree when it does not have the rootlets to pick up precious water. To avoid these pitfalls, plant your trees on small mounds so that water drains properly and roots do not become excessively waterlogged.

Some of the more common trees planted in the Midwest are green ash and Norway maple because they can tolerate the area's clay soils and temperatures that range from below zero to above 100 degrees. Many of these common trees are subject to insect and disease, particularly green ash, and other species should be planted to avoid losing an entire yard in one season.

The Kentucky coffeetree is a less-known, hardy tree that has few serious diseases and can adapt to tough climate and soils. The coffeetree is unusual because its fruit is a leathery pod five to 10 inches long. The pod contains seeds that early settlers roasted as a coffee substitute. The inside of the pod is coated with a sticky gum that is reportedly poisonous to people and cattle but has been eaten by any number of children who have turned into fine adults. (Still, it's best, of course, to caution your kids to avoid ingesting anything without an adult's supervision.)


(CO, WY, ND, SD, NE, KS, OK, UT, NV,


"If any one thing characterizes this vast region," says Jim Nighswonger of Kansas State and Extension forestry, "it is temperature extremes." From the Great Plains to the high Rockies, annual temperatures fluctuate from well below zero to more than 100 degrees F. To complicate tree selection, notes Phil Hoefer of the Colorado Forest Service, communities range in altitude from 1,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level. The right tree is the one that can withstand the long winters and


the dessicating summer winds common to the region.

Craig Foss of the North Dakota Forest Service notes a tendency for people in the region to plant too deep. Heavy clay soils are common, but even in sandy soils homeowners tend to bury the tree's roots. Wide and shallow holes are now being promoted throughout the interior states, and homeowners are being encourage to plant on a solid pedestal of soil so that the rootball sits at or slightly above the surrounding grade.

Another problem is that new residents tend to carry tree preferences with them from the eastern forests. Many of these trees become overplanted and are not as hardy as other regional mainstays. Some of the most overplanted species are green ash, silver maple, pin oak, honeylocust, and Siberian elm.

The burk oak does well throughout most of the region, as does the common hackberry. The hackberry is a tall, relatively fast-growing tree that prefers moist soils but will grown in dry, heavy soils and even sandy or rocky sites. In other words, it does well in adverse conditions--something the interior western states offer plenty of. The tree produces an abundance of orange-red fruit that ripen in the fall and attract birds and other wildlife.


(TX, NM, AZ)

With an average of 100 days a year of temperatures that top 90 degrees, the American Southwest is known for its hot and arid landscapes. The area actually receives a fairly even amount of rain throughout the year, but often--especially in the summer--the high temperature and dry air cause rainwater to evaporate before it can soak into the soil and nourish vegetation. The area's riparian soils will retain moisture, however.

Apart from hilly areas that are largely limestone, which crumbles without forming organically rich soil, much of the area is characterized by dry, slightly alkaline soils, as are found in the post-oak savannah of the plains. Because of these conditions, many acid-loving or acid-tolerant trees that grow well on the East Coast do not do


well in the Southwest.

John Giedraitis of the Austin Department of Forestry recommends that people in the region not plant any trees between the end of April and the beginning of November. During this extended summer season, rainwater evaporates quickly and does not reach the young tree's roots. A better time to plant is in the late fall and early winter when moisture sinks into the soil and the sun does not beat down so heavily on the young tree.

Although the Southwest has tough growing conditions, a number of species besides the more common ones--Arizona ash, live oak, cedar elm--can tolerate the heat and drought. Bur oak, for example, is a native tree that is drought-tolerant and even prefers alkaline and limestone soils. It can take full sun, like other southwestern trees, but its leaves are deep green in the summer, often contrasting with the paler colors of other negative vegetation.

Desert willow is another good choice for many areas. A moderate- to fast-growing deciduous tree that will reach about 25 feet, its gracefully drooping branches and profusion of showy flowers make it an urban delight. As its name implies, it does well on both wet and dry sites and requires relatively low maintenance.


(WA, MT, OR)

If it can be grown in other parts of the United States, it can be grown in the Pacific Northwest, some say. Although this is an exaggeration, the region has a moist, mild climate west of the Cascade Mountains that is favorable for growing many species of trees. East of the Cascades is another story, with low winter temperatures, high summer heat, and soils that are often alkaline.

Over half of the trees that do well in other areas of the country will also do well in the Northwest, and as many as 60 percent of the trees we buy at local nurseries are raised in the Northwest and shipped across the country. The northwestern yard, then, has the potential for growing a great diversity of trees.

Stephen Goetz of the Pacific Resources Group, a consultant firm specializing in urban forestry, warns that even though the area seems like a paradise for trees, people need to take care when planting. Despite the moist climate west of the Cascades, much of the rain is light and does not soak into the ground. The surface of the soil can be wet when the area just beneath, called the root zone, has little moisture.

Goetz recommends that planters not rely on the weather for moisture, but water young trees with about 10 gallons a week from mid-June until the end of September. Watering


in March and April is not a bad idea either, and if you are in doubt as to the wetness of the soil, poke your finger a couple of inches into the ground and feel if the subsurface layers are moist. If they are not, then it is time to water, no matter what month it is.

When planting in the Pacific Northwest, you have a little more leeway to experiment with various species of trees and are not restricted to drought-tolerant or clay-soil-tolerant species.

The handkerchief, or dove, tree is one interesting selection that is acclaimed by gardeners as one of the most handsome of flowering trees, but unfortunately it is seldom seen. The handkerchief tree gets its name from the two large, white bracts that hang downward from each flower, so that the tree in bloom looks as if it has hundreds of handkerchiefs, or doves, resting among it branches. Although it blooms for only about two weeks in May and then returns to its normal, green-leafed appearance, those two weeks make planting this specimen worthwhile.

Another interesting tree is the Japanese snowbell, a small species with strongly horizontal branches. The snowbell provides excellent fall color and white, fragrant flowers in June. Because the leaves angle up and the flowers angle down, the tree offers parallel green and white tiers in the early summer months. This is one selection, however, that needs plenty of water and good, well-drained soil--something in abundance on the west side of the Cascades.


California is known for its wide experimentation with exotic species. Several species of eucalyptus imported from Australia and the South Pacific many years ago are now thriving. The Canary Island pine is planted widely for its drought tolerance. With the state's mild coastal climate and extensive network of inland valleys and glacier-sculpted mountains, California communities have selected trees that grow well in similar climates and regions around the world.

"It is difficult to provide blanket recommendations for planting in California," notes Nelda Matheny of HortScience Inc., a horticultural consultant firm. Within a 60-mile radius of San Francisco, appropriate tree selection varies dramatically. From north to south--ski communities to desert villages--enormous temperature extremes exist, as do variations in soil salinity and pH extremes (acid to alkaline soils).

Although no one species can be recommended for every location within California, the Chinese tallow tree deserves a special look. A small, uniformly shaped tree with good fall color (a mixture of purple, yellow, and orange), the Chinese tallow grows in most soils, but slightly acidic is best. The tree is deciduous, provides light to moderate shade, and is a good lawn or street tree.

Bailey Hudson, city forester for Santa Maria, California, notes that another interesting selection is the Brisbane box, an evergreen tree that grows 30 to 60 feet in height and has naturally shredding reddish-brown bark. This is a moderate- to fast-growing tree with clusters of creamy white flowers that bloom in summer months. It grows well in most soils and requires some initial watering; however, established trees are drought-resistant.

That concludes our quick tour around the country. As you can see, the choices are abundant--and tantalizing. We hope this survey will persuade you to dig out your shovel. Almost every yard can use a few more trees. How about yours?


Phil Rodbell is the science editor for Urban Forests magazine, and Yale University student Johns Hopkins worked as an AFA Urban Forests intern recently.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Forests
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:planting recommendations
Author:Hopkins, Johns
Publication:American Forests
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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