How to Choose a Garden Tree

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I didn’t have a good weekend.

It started last Saturday when I was notified that my next door neighbour was in the process of having his very large English oak tree cut down and it ended with a blank, treeless view out of my window.

A tree really shouldn’t effect me this much.  I found myself pacing and went for a walk to get away from the sound of the chainsaws while my guts were churning in a mix of fury and heartache that life in that old tree was being taken away.  It didn’t need to be taken down.  There was no issue with it other than the fact I believe my neighbour wants to sell the wood.

Thing is, I love trees.  Trees are special and beautiful and majestic.  Everyone is unique both in it’s appearance and it’s impact to the environment.  They are also extremely important.  Trees help give the very existence to our lives by the carbon dioxide they remove from the atmosphere and the oxygen the provide.  We need oxygen, it’s pretty fundamental really.  Poetically I can look at a tree for ages, I love how the trunk feels to touch and hear the birds that sing from it.  I’m just a tree junkie really…

So yes I’m very sad that a stunning oak tree which must have been over 100yrs old (oaks can’t even produce acorns until 40 years into their growing life), can be taken down in three days just because the owner is fed up of it, and my weekend was ruined.

I’m sharing this with you because I figured not only would writing about my feelings go someway to help me get over this out of character behaviour that I am expressing (no-one around me is sharing this anger), but I also thought it would be a good time to discuss why trees are important to grow in all sized gardens.

Why would you grow a tree?

It might seem that trees are either there or they are not, and you don’t really take any notice of them unless they are either flowering, dropping leaves everywhere or blocking out your light.  But in actual fact a dedicated decision has to be made of what and where to plant a tree so why would you make that decision?

Trees are great for the following reasons:

  1. Enhance the look of the garden (in some cases can add 5% to the value of your home), and enhance the look of your local community.
  2. Provide shade on a hot summer day (thus reducing the need for air conditioning)
  3. Provide a habitat to insects and fungi
  4. Provide accommodation and food to birds and mammals
  5. Encourage wildlife into your garden
  6. Make your air cleaner to breath
  7. Create a noise and visual barrier to less sightly objects like outbuildings and roads
  8. If grown large enough can provide fuel for your home (without the need of cutting the whole tree down!)
  9. They provide food. Fruit and nuts can be harvested from certain types of trees
  10. They are a playground to children
  11. Add colours and texture to the garden
  12. Help to control and even prevent flash flooding

In our garden we have a selection of fruit trees and cherry blossom trees.  In the past I have had to remove conifers because they had become too big in the wrong space.  It happens frequently, which is why preparation to tree planting is the key.  It’s not difficult to do but you’ve got to check off a few things before you decide on the right tree to plant.

Tree Considerations

Granted, when you plant a sapling you’re not quite sure how big it’s going to grow.  Or depending on what type it might take so long to reach maturity that the size won’t be of your concern (oak tree next to an old house a prime example!).

Some tree’s provide more value and less hassle than others.  It always comes down to three important factors:

  • What size you can allow your tree to become, taking into account root distribution, nearby buildings, over head electrical wires and canopy spread.
  • Whether you can afford to pollard, coppice or take it down professionally if it does become a nuisance – any large tree maintenance should only be done by a professional, which isn’t cheap.  You start hacking away at a tree’s limbs and you’re likely to damage the tree causing even more expense down the line.
  • What visual/habitat impact you want to make?  Do you want to create a mini woodland?  Or a centre piece in the lawn?  Do you want it to be evergreen or deciduous?

Of course if you live in a conservation area then even more rules apply but for now we’ll stick to your average Joes’.

Most gardens in the UK aren’t going to be able to take a large (standard) tree.  Large being oak, willow, poplar, horse chestnut, walnut, some types of conifer, eucalyptus and elms.  But the good news is there are loads of smaller trees to choose from (those that typically grow up to 5 meters tall, mostly without pruning), which are perfect for gardens.

Top 15 garden trees to plant:

  1. Magnolia
  2. Acer
  3. Sorbus
  4. Eucalyptus (yes there are some smaller varieties than the gunii)
  5. Myrtle
  6. Compact mountain ash
  7. Flowering cherry
  8. Fruit trees (apple, cherry, plum and pear)
  9. Willow (compact variety)
  10. Crab apple
  11. Contoneaster
  12. Quince
  13. Witch hazel
  14. Holly
  15. Rowan

Like any plant it won’t always work where you put it.  Don’t be afraid in that case to take the tree down, sooner rather than later.  But the important thing is to try again and plant another one, a different one to see what that does.  It might prove to be a better fit.

I’m in no way adverse to trees being cut down but only if there is good reason.  Very often there is.  The ideal solution is always to make the right decision to begin with – to plant the right tree, in the right place and help nature and your garden along the way.

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Would you consider ever having a tree in your garden?  Have you ever inherited an old tree when moving house, that caused you nothing else but trouble?

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12 thoughts on “How to Choose a Garden Tree

  1. We lost a tree last year to emerald ash borer. Tried for a few years to save it but no go! I didn’t realize how it gave a visual boundary between the street traffic and the view from our front Windows.

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  2. I’m also a person who loves trees ~ as far back as a child. So, I can understand your feelings on the tree being cut down..

    Take care and happy blogging to ya…from Laura ~

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  3. Am sorry to hear what your neighbour did – an old Oak should be something treasured. There aren’t many of them around anymore. We are planning on planting a few trees around our acre garden this year; have Magnolias top of the list!

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  4. I understand that sometimes trees are leaning or threatening in some way. I hope your neighbor had a good reason. Even a couple of the trees in my yard worry me in a storm. Still, I’m perplexed when people move into a heavily treed neighborhood and proceed to cut down all the trees in the yard. Yes, this happens, and has happened in my neighborhood! (Why not move to a house that doesn’t have trees around it? There are whole neighborhoods like that) I’m sorry for the loss of your neighbor tree. — Sandy

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  5. I had a neighbor do a similar thing a few years ago. He had three trees taken off of his property. I actually cried over it. They were huge lovely old trees. We’ve since moved and have a partial wooded back yard which I love, but we had a large branch take out part of our fence last year. That was a bit of nightmare. There is a bit of a trade off because we also have a myrtle and a lovely tulip tree in the front yard. We are looking to move again and the place we are trying to buy has an established apple orchard and pecan trees. Luckily none are too close to the house.

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  6. In the house I am hoping to move into in June there is a large tree I can see in front from google maps (only my husband has seen the actual house so far) and I am THRILLED to finally have a tree in my front garden again. I would feel like you to see an old oak being torn down for no good reason 😦
    I am currently trying to find out what tree it is: it has red heart-shaped leaves and they become multicoloured in autumn 🙂

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