Right Tree / Right Place
Douglas L. Airhart & Guy Zimmerman III

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Right Tree / Right Place

Selecting Trees

Transplanting Trees

Mulching & Staking

Summary Diagram 

Pruning Trees

Topping Hurts!

Protecting Trees

Tree Root Myths

Pine Bark Beetles

Live Christmas Trees


List of Figures

List of Video Vignettes

Related Links



    The Right Tree for the Right Place:

Different trees have specific characteristics that make them useful in the landscape, but they also have different growth requirements that should be considered. This creates a complex series of factors for you to consider to select the right tree for the right place. 

From Tree City USA Bulletin No. 4, 1997, Used with permission of The National Arbor Day Foundation. (Figure 2-1) Examples of Various Tree Sizes.

Appleton (2000) and Stevens  (1997) suggest you consider the desired function, the intended location, the hardiness and mature size and shape of the tree, the soil conditions at the site, potential pest problems, local ordinances, and the grower or source of the tree. 

Determine the function of the tree (e.g., seasonal flowering, shade canopy, windbreak) and check with your source or references that the tree meets that function. However, it is more critical to the health of the tree to be sure the mature size and form of that tree matches the planting location (Fee, 1991). A common error made by home owners is picking young trees that will become large and planting them too close to buildings or under utility lines that eventually compete with the height and spread of the canopy of the tree. Compare the two figures below for their planting considerations.

From Tree City USA Bulletin No. 4, 1997, Used with permission of The National Arbor Day Foundation.

(Figure 2-2) Example of Better Tree Placement.

Smaller trees were planted under the power lines and shade trees were placed to the south and west of the house. These trees will cast cooling shadows in the summer to reduce utility cost and let the warm sun shine into the house in winter.


(Figure 2-3) Example of Poor Tree Placement.

Trees too large were placed under power lines, and large evergreens were planted too close to the house. Evergreens cast cool shadows on houses in the winter and prevent sidewalk ice from melting. 


From Tree City USA Bulletin No. 4, 1997, Used with permission of The National Arbor Day Foundation.

Your consideration of the amount of soil area for root growth is also required for successful growth to maturity. Most homeowners do not realize the amount of space needed for mature trees. Figure 2-4 below demonstrates a typical root zone for a mature tree. A limited root zone will have a negative influence on the establishment and survival of landscape trees. In any case of limited space to grow, the tree will lose, needing excess pruning or eventual removal from the site.

From Tree City USA Bulletin No. 5, 1999, Used with permission of The National Arbor Day Foundation.

(Figure 2-4) Trees Require Large Root Zones.

Root zones extend out from the trunk about 1.5 to 2.5 times the height of the tree.  Another suggestion is 1 foot of radius for every inch of trunk diameter. For example, a 30" trunk would require a 60' root zone.


Usually, reputable sources will only sell trees that will survive the winter in your area, but specific sites such as lower elevations or open, exposed areas may be peculiarly cold or windy and stressful to the tree. If you feel you may have peculiar conditions, describe them to your source and get an expert opinion. You must also consider the type of soil and especially the water drainage conditions of the site. Collect a soil sample from the planting root zone and have it tested for pH and fertility. Your County Extension Agent or local Farmers Cooperative should be able to help you get the sample tested. The test results will give you recommendations for adjusting the soil conditions to benefit the tree.

You can check soil drainage by digging a hole about a foot deep, filling it with water and waiting overnight, and then refilling it and timing how long it takes to drain. Ten to twenty-four hours is a satisfactory drainage period. Less time to drain may indicate a concern for relatively dry root conditions; more time may indicate that trees tolerant of wet conditions should be selected. Many homeowners do not bother with these simple tests, but if tree survival is the goal, they should be completed. Although roots require moisture for growth, adequate air exchange in the root zone is even more critical.

All trees have potential for pests and disease infection. Stressful conditions will make your body susceptible to disease, and stressful conditions will make your trees more likely to get pests and diseases. Keeping your tree healthy is the best pest and disease control method we can recommend. Make a good selection for a healthy tree, install the tree with proper planting procedures, and follow establishment techniques to reduce the stress factors that will weaken the tree. Chemical applications should be attempted only after identifying the pest or disease and then consulting garden centers or extension agents for recommendations.


Purpose    Right Tree / Right Place    Selecting Trees    Transplanting Trees    Mulching & Staking    Summary Diagram     Pruning Trees    Topping Hurts!      Protecting Trees     Tree Root Myths     Pine Bark Beetles     Live Christmas Trees     Glossary     List of Figures    List of Video Vignettes    Related Links     Bibliography


TLCforTrees.info is maintained by: Douglas Airhart, Ph.D. Certified Arborist & Jeff Plant, Ph.D, Last Updated on: 07/11/03