Trees are living, growing, changing organisms. Unlike fences or brick walks, they have very specific requirements in order to live long, healthy lives.

Too many people overlook this fact and expect every tree to thrive forever on any site. Tree choices are often based on what people desire rather than what the plant needs. Improper selection leads to over 90 percent of the tree problems reported every year. It is a case of the wrong tree in the wrong spot.

Some trees are able to take advantage of the limited light conditions on the fringes of forests or beneath larger trees. Planting understory trees such as flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum), European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina), serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) in the full sun will lead to problems. Trees stressed by the hot summer sun may develop cankers, attract insects and have problems with burned leaves.

Most evergreens need full sun. The key exception is the Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) which will do quite well in the shade of other trees or structures.

Full sun is required by other trees for best growth. Junipers (Juniperus sp.), yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), maples (Acer sp.), oaks (Quercus sp.) and most large growing trees benefit from sunny locations. Trees that do not get enough sunlight will elongate and become "top heavy" as they reach for the sun. It seems logical to routinely feed our plants. In most cases this is exactly the right thing to do. However, certain trees evolved in areas with soils of a low fertility. Feeding white pines or junipers can lead to excessive growth which invites insect and disease infestations.

Other trees come from sites where leaf mulch or other factors have led to a high level of fertility. Yellowwood, beech (Fagus sp.), and magnolia (Magnolia sp.) benefit from fertile soils.

Sugar maples make magnificent specimen trees. Unfortunately, they have site requirements that are difficult to meet in the home landscape. They do not tolerate salt from nearby streets and they must have good drainage down to at least 24 inches. As they grow, they must have plenty of room for their root system to expand. Do not put them in a site bordered closely by sidewalks, streets or driveways.

Not all trees are created equal. Unfortunately, it may be many years after planting before this becomes evident to the unsuspecting homeowner. Many trees promoted as "fast growing" often become headaches in the landscape. Speedy growth usually translates into brittle wood and short life.

The following trees have inherent characteristics which lead to problems in the landscape:

Boxelder (Acer negundo) - A weak-wooded, weedy tree that attracts the infamous bugs that become indoor pests every winter and spring.


European White Birch (Betula pendula)  - This tree has beautiful white bark but is a target of leaf miner and bronze birch borer which are difficult and expensive to control.



Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) - A victim of many diseases which kill branches and clutter the yard.



Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) - Often grows too big for the site and is disfigured by Cooley spruce galls and Cytospora canker.

Poplars (Populus sp.) - Fast growing and fast dieing trees that should only be used in temporary plantings.


Willow (Salix sp.) - Weak-wooded trees that fall apart in wind or ice storms.


European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia) - Has nice berries but is susceptible to many serious diseases and insects.



Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila) - Brittle-wooded trees that fall apart in storms and are the primary food of elm leaf beetles, another house invading nuisance pest.



Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) - These trees develop shallow roots that are difficult to mow around and lift sidewalks and driveways. The seeds clog eavestroughs. It has brittle wood that falls apart in ice storms.

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)  - The leaves and seeds can be messy. It is also susceptible to a disease called anthracnose which causes defoliation in the spring.


Mulberry (Morus alba) - These trees produce messy fruit and self-seed throughout the landscape.


Crabapple (Malus sp.)- Many varieties are plagued by apple scab and fireblight. Some trees produce large amounts of messy fruit.



Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris) - This introduced species are susceptible to many diseases in the landscape. Groupings become crowded and stressed easily.


White Pine (Pinus strobus)  - This large growing tree may not fit into the home landscape. It does not do well near roads due to sensitivity to salt sprays.


Disease resistant varieties of crab apples and other trees should be used. Red maple (Acer rubrum), red oak (Quercus rubra), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and other desirable trees are available. Plant the right plant in the right site and avoid the headaches down the line.


There are many great tree species available for use in the home landscape [Hardy for USDA Climate Zone 5]. Most of us are used to planting red maples (Acer rubrum), crabapples (Malus), honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) and flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida). But, there are several other species that provide plenty of interest and should be considered for a spot in the garden.

Most people like the Japanese maple, (Acer palmatum) , with its delicate split leaves of light green or dark purple. Another option, however, is the Full Moon maple, (Acer japonicum) , which forms a nice small to medium sized tree. It also provides a brilliant orange display in the fall.

For an early spring show, consider the White Fringetree, (Chionanthus virginicus) . This small tree is covered with panicles of white flowers in mid-May as the new leaves are unfolding. This native tree is quite hardy although spring frosts may hinder flowering in certain years.

The American Yellowwood, (Cladrastis kentukea) , bears white, fragrant flowers in 8 to 14 inch long panicles in May to early June. Fall color is a golden yellow on the compound leaves.

For a larger site, consider the Tri-Color Beech, (Fagus sylvatica) . The purplish green leaves are edged by white and pink. As with other beeches, the bark on the trunk maintains its smooth, gray appearance throughout its long life. There are also several weeping forms that make striking specimens in the landscape.

The Maidenhair Tree or Ginkgo, (Ginkgo biloba) , is an excellent city tree when given enough space to spread out. The unique fan-shaped leaves turn a golden yellow in the fall. Be sure to get a male tree since the females produce fruit that is messy and smelly.

A medium sized tree that is excellent for shading a patio is the Goldenraintree, (Koelreuteria paniculata) . The tree has large (6 to 18 inches) compound leaves which provide a nice yellow fall color. The key feature is the production of bright yellow flowers borne on 12 to 15 inch long panicles in July.

Black Gum, (Nyssa sylvatica), is considered one of the best native trees for the landscape. Summer foliage is a lustrous dark green turning to brilliant yellow, orange to scarlet and purple in the fall. 

For a protected site, Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartia pseudocamellia) , is worth a shot. It is one of the few summer flowering trees, bearing beautiful, camellia-like flowers in June and July. The bark of the mature tree is unique and a second wonderful characteristic. 

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.


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