The trees in your yard serve several purposes: they provide shade, display beautiful flowers and leaves, absorb carbon dioxide, expel oxygen, provide a home for wildlife, and can be felled and milled for lumber. Most of these multi-purpose superstars of landscape design are best planted in the early spring (we’ll explain why later).
We’ve gathered some of the hardiest, prettiest, and easiest-to-grow landscaping trees so you can have a yard full of thriving trees and shrubs just in time for Arbor Day.
Most people associate magnolia trees with the fragrant, lush white blooms of the Southern Magnolia, but allow us to introduce you to its hybrid cousin: the Saucer Magnolia.
Saucer Magnolias are known for their beautiful flowers in romantic shades of pink, magenta, and purple. These sun-loving trees can grow fairly quickly in acidic, clay, or loamy soil, and their springtime floral display and dark green summertime leaves make them an excellent focal point for your front or back yard.
The name says it all. Green Giant Arborvitaes are large, fast-growing evergreens that shoot up in towering cones of dense, green foliage. Green Giants grow as much as three feet per year until maturity and make excellent privacy screens and natural windbreaks.
Most soil types are suitable for these hardy evergreens, and there are no serious disease or pest problems to worry about, either. Due to their size, they might not be best for smaller, cramped garden spaces.
Sugar Maples are among the best-loved trees in North America, and it’s no wonder why. Not only do they thrive in almost every growing zone, but these particular maples are also responsible for maple syrup and are highly valued for their hard, heavy, and strong lumber.
Maple trees’ dense crowns provide ample shade in the summer and a fantastical display of reds, oranges, and yellows in the fall. They prefer full or partial sun and deep, well-drained soil.
Red Japanese Maple leaves are dainty and narrow-lobed with a striking, deep crimson hue. Japanese Maple trees can grow as small bonsai or 10-14 ft. showstoppers, making them as at home in a flower bed as they are standing alone in the middle of the yard.
These unique trees do best in full sunlight or dappled shade with well-drained, consistently moist soil. Japanese Maples are sensitive to wind exposure and late frosts, so be sure to plant after the last cold snaps of early spring have run their course.
Even the greenest of tree experts are likely to recognize the distinct white, peeling bark of the paper birch. The pale tree trunk contrasted against a green garden or forest backdrop is a year-round treat, and in the fall, the crown of the tree explodes with fiery, golden fall colors.
Shade-loving plants in flower or garden beds can be grown under birch trees thanks to their thin canopy coverage, but be sure to avoid building damaging raised beds around the base of the tree. These trees attract birds, squirrels, and even luna caterpillar moths.
Weeping willows are one of the fastest-growing shade trees, able to spring up six to eight feet in a single year. These dramatic, sweeping trees have particularly aggressive root systems, so it’s best to give these divas a wide berth from foundations, sewer drains, water lines, or septic tanks.
Weeping willows have been popular landscape additions for hundreds of years, due in no small part to their tolerance of all soil types, resistance to drought, and ability to instantly bump up property value.
American Redbud trees don rosy pink blossoms and reddish, heart-shaped leaves in the spring before giving way to its summertime look of dark green leaves on asymmetrical branches. These blushing beauties prefer well-drained soil in a partly shaded location.
Creating Your Dream Tree Landscape
The basic steps for planting trees are the same as regular ol’ tomatoes or daisies. Young trees are sold balled and burlapped, in a container, or as bare root trees with their roots lightly packed in moist material.
Balled and burlapped trees feature large balls of soil and roots that are wrapped in breathable burlap. Container trees are delivered in, you guessed it, a container. Depending on how the tree was transported, certain steps might need to be taken to lengthen your tree’s life.
No matter the transportation method, the two most important elements are time and location.
Time: Planting in the Spring
Ask two different botanists about the best time to plant a tree, and you’ll likely get two different answers. A newly planted tree has the best chance of survival in early spring or late fall, and we prefer the former for a few reasons:
• Nurseries tend to have the best-stocked inventory in early spring.
• Autumn is followed by deep frosts that can kill young trees, but early spring is generally followed by a period of moderate weather during which the tree’s roots can get better established.
• Springtime planting is easier on vulnerable bare root trees.
Location: Laying the Groundwork (Literally)
Planting sites are as important as the planting itself, and the Arbor Day Foundation blog offers an incredibly helpful online resource for determining the best spots for planting holes. Here are a few tree-tending tips to keep in mind:
• When digging the planting hole, it’s best to dig a hole two to three times bigger than the diameter of the tree’s root ball.
• A hole should never be deeper than the soil ball is tall. The tree’s trunk flare, where the tree trunk meets the top of the roots, needs to be above the soil line for the roots to access the oxygen they require.
• Air pockets will naturally form as you dig up and refill the planting hole. Eliminating air pockets is crucial as roots can’t grow through these spaces. Stomping the soil can compact the dirt too tightly. Instead, use water to gently settle the soil around the transplanted tree.
Success Starts From the Ground Up
Unfortunately, many seemingly innocent tree-tending practices can result in over-watered, under-aerated, and all-around struggling root systems. To keep your dreamy landscape ideas from becoming nightmares, avoid these all-too-common tree care malpractices:
- Fine-textured organic matter like peat moss can trap excess moisture or decompose anaerobically, releasing toxic chemicals into the young roots. Use coarser-textured material, like wood chips, instead.
- [Spreading mulch](https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/horticulture-care/mulching-trees-and-shrubs#:~:text=APPLYING%20MULCH,(%E2%80%9Cvolcano%20mulching%E2%80%9D) around the base of the tree trunk helps insulate the soil and prevents erosion, but any more than three to four inches of mulch around a tree can actually do more harm than good.
- Landscape fabric is often touted as the best solution to prevent weeds around young trees, but take it from the green-thumbed gardeners at Choose Natives: this is normally a recipe for disaster and premature tree deaths.
- Make sure the landscaping around your trees disturbs the plants as little as possible. Bob Vila offers several useful landscaping-near-trees tips, including installing landscape lights so you can enjoy the hard-earned fruits of your labor 24 hours a day.