Plant a tree to add beauty and value to your home

There's nothing like a breathtaking autumn to make us notice the trees. And fall is the perfect time to start thinking about adding a tree to your property.

J.D. and I are lucky to have many mature trees on our lot, but that didn't stop us from planting more when we moved in. We added four fruit trees and a Japanese Zelkova for shade on the southwest side of our home. In only its second summer, that shade tree was already a welcome spot of cool for J.D. and the cats.

In most climates, autumn and spring are the best times for planting new trees, but a tree is a lifetime commitment, so don't rush into anything! Do your research now so you're ready for a springtime purchase, or spend the next 10 months watching trees in your neighborhood before picking the one that's right for you.

Why Plant a Tree?

For a small investment of money and time, a tree provides many long-term benefits, including these cited by the Arbor Day Foundation:

  • Property value. Landscaping can add 10-20% more value to a home, especially landscaping that incorporates mature trees. Business areas with trees attract more customers (and they stay longer and spend more money) and apartments with trees have reduced tenant turnover.
  • Resale value. A well-chosen tree adds curb appeal and makes the home appear established within its environment. According to the Arbor Day Foundation's research, “83% of realtors believe that mature trees have a ‘strong or moderate impact' on the salability of homes listed for under $150,000; on homes over $250,000, this perception increases to 98%.”
  • Energy efficiency. Depending on how your home is situated, trees can be used to provide shade during the heat of summer or protect your home from the blasts of winter wind, cutting cooling and heating costs. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 — 50 percent in energy used for heating.”
  • Beauty. From spring's first blossoms to the vibrant colors of fall, trees usher in the seasons and announce their passing. Even the bare branches and bark of deciduous trees can be stunning against a stark winter landscape or dusted with snow.
  • Good for the planet. Trees do more than look good. As every second-grader knows, a tree absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, helping to reduce the impacts of fossil fuel use and keep the planet in balance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that “the net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” Trees also reduce soil erosion and storm runoff.
  • Good for your mood. Research indicates that communities with more trees report lower crime rates and lower levels of anxiety. In one study from Texas A&M University, looking at trees reduced stress within five minutes, as indicated by changes in blood pressure and muscle tension. Add a hammock and you can probably cut that to two minutes!
  • Good for your wallet. Reduce your grocery bills by planting trees and bushes that produce food for your family. Dwarf selections of fruit and nut trees are beautiful and productive.
  • Privacy. Well-placed trees can screen a house from a busy road or a noisy neighbor. We are fortunate to have mature trees on all four sides of our property, creating a park-like setting in which street noise and the visual impact of other houses are minimized.
  • Company. Native trees provide berries, seeds, fruits or nuts for local birds and critters. Even non-native tree species may serve as nesting sites or feeding stations for wildlife.
  • Community. Planting a tree to commemorate a birth or death is a meaningful way to connect our humanity with our environment and the future. If you don't have room in your own yard, consider arranging a tree-planting at a senior home, school, or community center as a way to honor someone in your life.

What Kind of Tree Should You Plant?

Now that you're convinced, here's the fun part: choosing your tree.

This is the most crucial step. Putting the wrong tree in the wrong place spells trouble down the road for you, your neighbors, or future owners. I frequently see housing developments built during the early nineties that are planted with ill-chosen trees.

Often, new homes are sold with no backyard landscaping and merely grass and a few ornamental shrubs in front. Because their houses are so close together, homeowners may have felt compelled to plant fast-growing trees to provide a bit of privacy. After a decade, however, these trees are reaching out to block windows, touch roofs or walls, stretch toward power lines, overhang driveways, and creating lawn and sewer problems with their root systems. A tree that's going to be 80-feet tall when mature does not belong in a postage-stamp-sized yard.

Plan ahead by asking yourself these questions:

  • How big is the space? This should be your top consideration. Remember that trees come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall but narrow, while others form a broad canopy. Dwarf or slow-growing varieties are more appropriate in limited spaces. Some trees take well to pruning to keep them a desired size. How tall is your house? It's best not to have a large tree too close to the house; it should not overhang the roof. A small space could still be home to a large shrub, adding many of the same benefits.
  • What is the purpose of the tree? Shade? Windbreak? Ornamental, to be seen out a picture window? A crop tree? Will you plant one tree, or do you have room for more? How fast do you want it to mature? Remember some fruit trees need others to pollinate them. A windbreak is commonly a row of trees set together with branches near ground level. A shade tree is likely a widely-branched deciduous tree. But a fruit tree provides shade and beauty, and a windbreak can shelter birds and minimize soil erosion. The best trees are multi-purpose.
  • What does the climate dictate? Trees native to your region are best-suited for your climate, and will host the most wildlife. But there's nothing wrong with planting something more exotic if you're willing to do your homework and give it a bit more TLC. Be sure to avoid species classified as invasive in your area.
  • How much maintenance will the tree need? Know thyself. If you hate raking leaves, maybe an evergreen tree is best for you. Fruit trees can draw insects and make a mess if the fruit isn't harvested. What's your neighborhood like? In ours, nobody cares if the leaves aren't raked immediately and a few apples litter the sidewalk, but your neighborhood may be different. If you live in a city, there may be local information available about certain types of trees recommended (or required) for planting near sidewalks and streets, as well as trees you may want to avoid due to mess, pest-problems, or climate intolerance.

I recommend that you begin your quest for the perfect tree in your own neighborhood. Look for trees you like and observe them during each season. You might even talk to the home or business owner to get their opinions on the tree. Like most people, each tree has bad habits. Does it send up obnoxious invasive sprouts from its root system? A lot of pollen in the spring? Have weak wood that results in downed limbs? Make sure you can live with the flaws.

An arboretum or local park can show you what the fully-grown trees look like. (Take along a picnic lunch and a tree identification guide so you'll know what you're seeing.) The staff of a quality local nursery can help you identify a tree from a leaf or flower, and answer questions about its habits.

If you need additional help, check out the Advanced Tree Search tool from the Arbor Day Foundation website. (The main Arbor Day site also has links to local resources and arborists.)

Ready to Buy, Ready to Plant

Although you may find a greater selection by mail-order, I highly recommend choosing and purchasing your tree in person. A young tree in a 20-gallon pot may be 6-12 feet tall and run around $100-200, depending on variety.

Go to a good nursery and examine the branch structures of the type of tree you're shopping for. Look for evidence of pest damage. Beware of thick roots circling the inside of the pot or thrusting up from the soil. Ask questions! And be prepared to get it home; a potted tree is heavy and awkward. A good way to damage a young tree is to stick the pot in your car's hatchback, the trunk waving in the air, and drive home on the freeway with the limbs crashing in the wind.

Note: If you live in an area with limited nursery options, start by seeing what trees are available in your area and then researching those to make your choice. It's discouraging to settle on the perfect tree, only to find it's not for sale in your state. That could mean some hefty freight charges if you have your heart set on a particular tree.

Once you get the tree home, plant it as soon as you can.

Remember: Your choice between spring or fall planting is important.

  • Cold-hardy trees are best planted in fall. This gives them a chance to acclimatize and establish a root system before the dry season.
  • Some immature trees can be more susceptible to frost damage after a transplant; if your chosen tree is one of these, choose a spring planting.
  • Either way, keep your investment from shriveling by watering deeply and often through the tree's first year in its new home.
  • Mulch two feet out from the trunk of the tree to keep down weeds, retain moisture, and prevent you from damaging the trunk with the lawnmower or trimmer.
  • Learn how to prune your tree to maximize its assets. Never simply cut off the top of a tree to make it shorter.

Trees need time to reach their potential. Eventually, that small twig will be a thing of joy. Just sit back and watch your tree grow, adding both beauty and value to your home.

More about...Home & Garden

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Vincent Scordo
Vincent Scordo
11 years ago

Nice post, J.D. I just planted a whole bunch of trees/shrubs here in the Northeast (just before the freeze).

One nice tip is to try and buy trees/shrubs in the Fall when shops often discount items to move inventory before the winter.

See my shrub planting guide at http://www.scordo.com/blog/blog (practical living blog).

Great blog, by the way!

Vince

SH
SH
11 years ago

Great post!

We have gotten our last 4 trees free from city, county sponsored tree give-aways – all natives. Check with the city, county, or agriculture service if they offer the same service in your area.

Stefe
Stefe
11 years ago

I was very pleased to see this article! I have been researching trees for a privacy screen and after reading your article I now realize I should be looking at evergreens, at least to begin with as they will not touch the neighbors new 2 story garage complete with upstairs windows that look down on the back of our home. It is a work in progress and hopefully year by year we will be able to add a few more. Thanks for the additional websites to visit!

Judy W
Judy W
11 years ago

Love the article!

If you go to the Arbor Day sight you can join for $10.00 and they will send you some good info on trees and 10 free trees for your area. I’m waiting for mine now. Granted they won’t be very big, but if your on a tight budget like I am and love to garden, this is a great buy!

Jonathan
Jonathan
11 years ago

This is a great idea, I’ve recently done this as part of a new forest that is being planted and it’s a great thought that it will be a lasting reminder and make a difference to the environment now

Charles
Charles
11 years ago

I used to work in our family greenhouse and nursery, I’ve probably planted thousands of trees so I figured I should chip in my 2 cents. It is possible to plant trees that will detract from the value of your home. Be careful when planting trees that drop fruits or berries, especially near high traffic areas like sidewalks. I particularly loathe ginko trees as the fruits have an especially awful odor. Trees or bushes that have small berries can attract birds which is nice, but it might be better to have them on a side of your property where the… Read more »

paisana
paisana
11 years ago

I need to reiterate something commenter 2 said: many a good neighbor relationship has been lost over one party having mulberry or ginkgo trees, so be very careful when planting anything that drops fruit!

Sara A.
Sara A.
11 years ago

Don’t forget to call the utility companies before you plant a tree! You need to make sure it will not break any buried lines when you dig, or will not have roots break lines when it grows bigger.

We are planting a pecan tree this winter and were able to just call 811 on our phone and there was a service that contacted all our utilities at once so they could mark our yard. Not sure about availability of the 811 service in other areas, but they have a website:

http://www.call811.com

Alison Wiley
Alison Wiley
11 years ago

Good post, and great example of a win-win for homeowner, community and planet. Here is a related piece on a homeowner shedding some excess pavement and reclaiming it to green space: http://www.diamondcutlife.org/ousting-the-pavement/

Grampa Ken's  7 Decades
Grampa Ken's 7 Decades
11 years ago

I’ve planted 100s of trees starting back about 1940 when I was a kid. It was a nice feeling stopping at the old house on a visit back to Ontario to see these large trees. They are visible on Google maps. My first plantings were only poplars.

Willows, hemlocks, cedar, fruit trees . .

Get a kid interested in planting and they will have a valuable life-time gift.

Serena
Serena
11 years ago

My town will actually plant trees in front of homes by request – at no cost to the homeowner!
Great post.

The Beagle
The Beagle
11 years ago

Sometimes, a large tree in a small yard can work beautifully. I live in a 14-ft wide semi-detached house built in the 1920s. The property itself is only 18 ft wide (there is a shared driveway between the houses, all of which are built the same way. In the back, there is a mature maple tree that spreads out over four properties. It is a beautiful tree and creates a genuine shady oasis in an otherwise fast-paced and noisy city.

Vincent Scordo
Vincent Scordo
11 years ago

Serena, same here in NJ (our town has a shade tree committe and they tend to the trees in town, planting new ones and cutting old ones.)

Best
Vince

http://www.scordo.com/blog/blog – a practical living blog

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

Great post! I would love to do that when we actually own a home (or at least in the process of owning one) depending on the size of the lot. If nothing else, fruit trees will definitely be planted.

A. Dawn
A. Dawn
11 years ago

Trees save our planet; they give us so much but never ask for anything in return.
Cheers,
A Dawn Journal
http://www.adawnjournal.com

Jeremy Day
Jeremy Day
11 years ago

Great idea for a post! Trees really do add a lot of value to a house. We planted a peach tree in our back yard and we hope to see peaches on it in about 5 years. You really do have to think long term about these things, but trees are definitely worth the investment.

Cheers,
Jeremy

Michelle
Michelle
11 years ago

One suggestion if you need to have a particular plant identified: bring in a 4-6 inch long sample rather than just a single (detached) leaf. There are some plants plants where you cannot make an accurate identification off of the leaf alone.

Jason
Jason
11 years ago

Well, here in the gulf coast, tree value has diminished a lot in the last few years due to how many people’s houses were damaged or destroyed by fallen trees. I know many people who were true tree lovers that now demand they (the large ones) be removed. Of course, it is not the tree’s fault. Wrong tree choices (live oaks hold up and release their leaves, while red oaks topple), building neighborhoods in wooded areas (thinning out most of the trees, leaving just a few without the wind support of other trees they grew tall with), and damaged root… Read more »

Dana
Dana
11 years ago

I would recommend making sure the tree you get is native to your locale. Too many people want to plant something that was imported from Asia and while some of those trees are really nice, they can compete with native trees. For instance, at my old apartment building there were three white mulberries in the backyard. (Trivia: Both the white-berried mulberries and the black-berried ones are white mulberries, they just happen to make two different colors of berry.) White mulberry is indigenous to China, and was introduced here in a bid to start up a silk industry. That didn’t work… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

Of course, if you want to grow flowers or vegetables, it’s good to have some sun somewhere, something the previous owners of my property did not, apparently, give much thought to. But I do like the trees (mostly pecan, very labor-intensive because they are always dropping something or other, but some of it is pecans).

Sammy @ Financial Bounce
Sammy @ Financial Bounce
11 years ago

Great article. I was planning on finding some trees and planting them this weekend around the backyard for kicks!

fivecentnickel.com
fivecentnickel.com
11 years ago

This post really speaks to me. I’m the same way. Oh, how I love trees. We have a lot of mature trees on our property, but that doesn’t stop me from planting more. One of the “problems” is that we have a good number of pine trees, and I’d like to gradually convert our land to a hardwood forest. I’ll be retired (and possibly dead) before the conversion is complete, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to do it.

rubin pham
rubin pham
11 years ago

as a tree lover and home owner, i have been planting trees all over my back yard and front yard whenever i can.

Rahul
Rahul
11 years ago

I like the concept of trees to add beauty and value to my home, and I certainly believe it is true too. I myself being a certain degree of plant lover, I’d like to implement this idea practically as well.

Nick
Nick
11 years ago

One thing to keep in mind before planting, mind where your sewer lines are. The previous owner of this house planted a big tree right on top of one, and it caused a huge headache for him later on down the road, that involved digging up the entire front yard of the house.

Bonnie
Bonnie
11 years ago

I’d like to echo what Sara and Nick say about being careful not to plant where the roots can get into pipes. I work for a sewer agency — roots are the number-one cause of sewer clogs and back-ups in our area, by far. Back-ups can be horribly messy. And it’s such a shame when a beautiful tree has to be removed because its roots love to infiltrate the sewer line! Plan carefully before you plant!

M. D. Vaden Tree  and Redwood Trekking
M. D. Vaden Tree and Redwood Trekking
10 years ago

One thing is certain, if trees are to add value, the selection and placement must be done almost perfectly, otherwise it can reduce value, since value boils down to offers. But done right, usually helps keep offers elevated. Two of my favorite trees are the Black Tupelo and Giant Sequoia. Both are sizeable trees. For small, Hinoki Cypress and Vine maple are two more. At least near Portland here, if may make more sense to just plant for energy savings than money savings if shade is the goal, using big trees. Because unless someone can climb them someday, they will… Read more »

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