Before falling in love with a tree, do a little research

In the world of gardening, few plants can impact a landscape so greatly - and for such a long time - as a tree.

Although homeowners have a year to fuss over the foliage of a tree, the novelty of a tree's bark or the pattern in which its branches grow, when the snow recedes and life returns, many gardeners want new, beautiful trees. And in the spring, landscaped trees are often the crown jewels of the yard.

"The beauty of a tree - you don't always look at the tree, but you can feel the canopy over you. When trees spread out, they provide the shade and it has that feeling," said Jan Chima, of Superior Gardening Service, 5233 Kensington Place N.

But as Chima's husband, Michael, would say, most people choose a tree because of its beauty rather than its compatibility with the yard. Even Jan admitted to falling for trees that might not last past a single season.

"I'm more like the typical homeowner who likes things that are pretty and doesn't have a clue what things will look like in five years," she said.

But any landscaper will tell you that there is a remarkable difference in the beauty of a tree that's well-planned rather than one planted randomly in the ground. That's why it's increasingly necessary for grizzled gardeners and amateur green thumbs alike to do their homework before selecting a tree to plant in their own yard.

"It's good to get landscape advice," Jan said.

Ornamentals vs. evergreens

It's imperative that gardeners understand the differences between ornamental flowering trees and evergreens, the two most commonly grown trees in the Northwest.

An ornamental flowering tree, such as a cherry tree, is valued for the berries it produces and the shade it offers, according to the National Park Service. In fact, ornamental flowering trees grow in most well-planned yards.

There's only one problem that these trees pose for some homeown-ers. "Cherries look great now, but they are only seasonal," cautioned Susanne O'Trimble, a designer for Williamson Landscape Architecture, 302 N. 72nd St.

But there is an alternative. For those who seek year-round foliage, Washington's trademark evergreen is your best bet. Evergreen trees are valued for their consistent beauty and wildlife, as well as providing other benefits such as screening views.

"You don't need a big block of green; you just need something to deflect your eye," O'Trimble said, with respect to gaining privacy in front of one's house.

With evergreen trees ranging in size from 20 to about 60 feet tall, they can be a perfect match for many yards.

Other year-round trees like Styrax Japonica, or a Japanese snowbell, are guaranteed to last through the seasons as well. In fact, more and more small Japanese maples are taking root in local gardens, according to O'Trimble.

Think long term

Although both evergreen and ornamental types offer innovative and aesthetically pleasing additions to the yard, O'Trimble encouraged home-owners to consider the ultimate size, shape and purpose for their trees. Indeed, trees are not a quick-fix; they are going to be around for a long time.

Therefore, it is always helpful to consider planting trees with the long term in mind.

Landscaping nightmares are frequent if homeowners don't think ahead. Jan Chima worked with a client who had to cut down a 50-foot-tall tree because of the damage it caused underneath her home - damage that would hamper her ability to sell her house.

"She was really emotional about that," Chima said. "You don't see a guy 50 feet [up] in a sole sequoia tree with a saw to cut it out every day. The woman doesn't think she would have done that if she had known the work that went into it."

Her story points out the importance of location when planting.

"It's all dependent on the area and the specific spot you're looking for," said Greg Paulson, owner of Greenacre Landscape, 7319 Dayton Ave. N.

Tree laws

Local jurisdictions often have specific guidelines for the types and locations of trees. The extent and growth patterns of roots often affect city sidewalks, roads and driveways. Limbs might interfere with neighbors' yards and power lines, and roots often damage sewer and plumbing lines.

According to the Puget Sound Action Team 2005 manual, the City of Seattle has several requirements for tree-planting locations:

* 3 1/2 feet from the face of the curb.

* 5 feet from underground utility lines.

* 10 to 15 feet from power poles.

* 7 1/2 to 10 feet from driveways.

* 20 feet from streetlights or other existing trees.

* 30 feet from street intersections

* Planting strips for trees should be at least 5 feet wide.

"If people's trees mess up sidewalks, then generally it's the indi-vidual's responsibility," O'Trimble said. "Big-leaf maple, cottonwoods or poplars beat the pavement. They are the ones most likely to ruin the sidewalks."


After finding the right tree for your yard and planting it in the proper location, there is still one more thing to consider: maintenance.

For Rob Wagstaff, owner and agronomist of Emerald Turf Landscaping, 332 N.E. 56th St., it's all about soil and deep-watering.

Wagstaff's company specializes in organic maintenance and restoration of lawns. In part, he ensures that the roots of tree are expanding and receiving the nutrients they need from the soil.

All things considered equal, richer soil means stronger roots, which means healthier trees. Clay soil holds water better than sand soil, for instance, Wagstaff said.

"The idea is that you water every other day" depending on the type of soil, Wagstaff said. "You want the roots diving deep to get to the water. So if you're watering every day, then the roots don't have to dive very deep to get to the water - something that homeowners don't want."

Even if a tree has an irrigation system, new trees needs deep-watering.

"If you plant it now, you probably want to water it half an hour with dripping hose once a month so the roots dig deeper," O'Trimble said. "[An] irrigation system is not enough for a new tree. It will go on for five minutes and then turn off, and that's not enough."

Planting trees for spring can take time, money and a lot of effort. Ultimately, it is a tradeoff. Local gardeners love the end result - a beautiful tree or set of trees - more than the effort planting the tree might take away.

[[In-content Ad]]