What tree is for me?
June 26, 2007 9:09 AM   Subscribe

What kind of tree should I plant?

Recently moved into my first house and would like to plant a small/med sized tree in the back yard (about 15' wide) for a little shade and to just look nice. It is in full sunlight about 25' from the house. I would prefer something with minimal maintenance and on the inexpensive side. I plan to live here for about 10 years, so it might be nice to get a smaller tree and see it grow up a bit during that time. I'm in southeastern VA.

I have looked at these links, but there are still a lot of choices. I don't know much about taking care of trees, so any other advice would be helpful.
posted by roaring beast to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The first question you have to answer is, when you say "minimal maintenance," do you want a deciduous tree that drops leaves in the winter, or an evergreen slowly dropping needles and whatnot throughout the year? Both have pros and cons.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2007

You might consider a tree that not only looks beautiful, but attracts birds. I have some mountain ash trees, which flower and then produce red berries that look beautiful against the snow in winter. In the spring, robins and flocks of bohemian waxwings will eat the berries from the top of the tree down. There is virtually no maintenance. Nut trees attract squirrels, which can be real pests if they get into your house or shed.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2007

This Virginia site may be very helpful to you.

The similar California's SelecTree site may be helpful. You may have to verify hardiness elsewhere.

This Illinois site is non-interactive, but may be useful.
posted by fidelity at 9:32 AM on June 26, 2007

I'm no expert, but FWIW, we have a kanzan cherry tree that has grown from a large sapling (when planted) to a 2-story tree within about 15 years. It attracts birds, butterflies, and bees, is incredibly low-maintenance, looks stunning when green and doubly so when it blooms. I live in DC, and it's thriving in my small (15'wide perhaps, much of it patio) back garden. Lots of links online...
posted by nkknkk at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2007

Dogwood. The answer to this is that you should always plant a dogwood. Go for chinese dogwood if the American dogwoods in your area are suffering from the fungus killing American dogwoods.
posted by OmieWise at 10:11 AM on June 26, 2007

If you don't have a garage, I would recommend against a tree that has berries. After birds eat them, they decorate your car with bright blue/red splashes...

Evergreen trees will grow faster, but the shade they produce isn't that great. When the needles drop and mulch into the soil, you also end up with acidic soil (i.e., not great for grass growth). If you park near the tree, or have lawn furniture (or an A/C unit) under it, you will have sap drips as it gets larger and overhangs the yard/house.
posted by blackkar at 10:12 AM on June 26, 2007

Another strike against some evergreen trees - they have incredibly sharp needles that will find their way into your house and eventually through the skin of your feet.

Look around your neighbourhood and choose something similar to the trees that look healthy and that appeal to you.
posted by glip at 10:23 AM on June 26, 2007

The answer to this is that you should always plant a dogwood.
Unless you're annoyed by the bark.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:28 AM on June 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have always been partial to locust trees. They provide shade, but it's filtered shade, so grass does OK under them.

Here is a bit of info.
posted by Danf at 10:32 AM on June 26, 2007

I <3 ginko. looks all awesome, and hasn't changed in a bagillion years. also, it looks awesome. ;-)br>
I'm also partial to ... oh snap, can't remember what they're called. They make these yellow fruits that are somewhere between golfball and volleyball sized depending on the subspecies, smell DIVINE, and don't rot. You make wicked preserves w/ them, or use them as air fresheners, but you don't eat them fresh.

Darnit, this is going to drive me nuts all day.
posted by TomMelee at 10:40 AM on June 26, 2007

TomMelee: Do you mean the osage orange?
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:57 AM on June 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers so far! I am probably leaning more towards the deciduous trees, because I'm not crazy about needles. Also, I would probably like to avoid a tree that will drop a lot of stuff that will be hard to run a lawnmower over as well (aside from the leaves of course). Cars and such are not a problem since this is in the backyard.
posted by roaring beast at 11:43 AM on June 26, 2007

I knew some folks with a nice weeping cherry tree in their backyard. They had an evening cookout while it was in bloom and strung white christmas lights all through the branches. The effect of the lights among the blossoms at night was stunning. I -- and everyone else at the party -- went home vowing to buy a weeping cherry tree so that I could do the same.
posted by junkbox at 12:00 PM on June 26, 2007

I remembered it! It's Quince! Horray.
posted by TomMelee at 12:47 PM on June 26, 2007

Good one, weapons-grade pandemonium!
posted by wsg at 1:31 PM on June 26, 2007

Try to plant a tree that won't need any watering so that you a) don't have to bother and b) don't waste water. Trees native to your area are good for this.
posted by ssg at 1:51 PM on June 26, 2007

I <3 ginko. looks all awesome/i>

Be sure to get only male trees. The females produce berries that smell like fresh, chunky human vomit. Disconcertingly so.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:30 PM on June 26, 2007

I recommend a Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia); if you can find the "Quickshade" cultivar and select a male tree, you'll be delighted. Pollard it at 12-15 feet and repollard it every two or three years.

The reasons I select it is because it's a pretty tree, it grows to height quickly, it produces a lot of shade, it's very stable, it doesn't produce annoying pollen, leaves, fruit, smells, or allergens, its exfoliating bark is totally benign to deal with, and it's resistant to a wide variety of diseases as well as being hardy in a lot of different climates.

It will kill the lawn under its dripline unless you choose a lawn that does not require sunlight; I had good success with dichondra under a Chinese elm tree.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:51 PM on June 26, 2007

Seconding OmieWise on the dogwood. Cornus kousa is the more disease-resistant variety, Cornus florida is the native. If you want something that will grow faster than the dogwood, you might like another native, the Eastern redbud. Both will give you dappled shade and multi-season interest without overtaking a small yard.
posted by weebil at 3:04 PM on June 26, 2007

Have you visited the Arbor Day Foundation?
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:43 PM on June 26, 2007

Dogwoods are nice, they do well in your area and are slower growing (they're also your state tree). Faster growing trees tend to get very tall, and often have invasive or surface roots that can be annoying at best, destructive at worst.

I also like Cercis canadensis, the redbud tree. Beautiful rounded leaves, slow- medium growth. Requires good drainage.

I would not recommend a Chinese Elm (Ulmus parviflora) unless you enjoy doing a lot of pruning.

Also: "evergreen" is not synonymous with "conifer". The evergreen or Southern Magnolia is a good example of an evergreen tree that does not have needles.

Here's another page from Virginia Cooperative Extension, about flowering trees.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:55 PM on June 26, 2007

Magnolia trees have beautiful flowers and don't grow too large.
posted by roboto at 6:14 PM on June 26, 2007

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