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Thursday, May 6, 2010 10:00 pm

Plan ahead to plant the right tree

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River birch

Selecting a tree is one of the most important landscape decisions a homeowner will make. Trees should be considered as an investment for the future, since most people move before a tree that they planted reaches mature height. Keep in mind, a properly placed and cared for tree will most likely outlive the person who planted it.

Before visiting a garden center or nursery, be prepared to make the perfect tree selection for your yard.

A tree species should be carefully matched to the growing site. Before selecting a tree species, know the site’s conditions such as amount of sunlight, soil type, soil pH, drainage of soil, and hardiness zone. (In central Illinois the zone is 5B.) Other site considerations include: purpose of the tree (shade or ornamental); location of obstacles which will interfere with the development of the tree canopy such as power lines, sidewalks, patios, driveways, other trees; location of utilities below ground.

The next step in your tree search is to consider what tree attributes will provide you with the most satisfaction. Select a tree with at least two seasons of interest. For example colorful blooms, brilliant fall color, attractive bark. Select tree species for mature height and spread, form, growth rate, longevity, resistance to insects and diseases, summer heat tolerance and winter cold hardiness, drought tolerance and salt tolerance. The mature shape of the tree – oval, columnar, vase-shaped – is also not to be overlooked.

Many tree species can be successfully planted in central Illinois. However, no one species will match the conditions of every site. Avoid planting the same tree species that your neighbors have in their yard. Planting a wide variety of species is important so that no single disease or insect problem can destroy a large percentage of the trees. Avoid planting ash trees, as they are a host for emerald ash borer. Most tree species can be successfully planted in spring or fall (from October until the ground freezes).

A great Web database of recommended plants is Illinois Best Plants by the Chicago Botanic Garden, http://www.bestplants.org/. The plant search option feature of this Web site allows you to select the characteristics that match your gardening conditions and requirements and find suitable plants. The database contains perennials, shrubs and trees.

Under the Canopy, A Guide to Selecting, Planting and Caring for Trees in Illinois is a full-color homeowners guide that provides information about choosing a tree species, designing a residential landscape, and planting, pruning and maintaining trees. When unfolded, the back side reveals a 22-inch by 34-inch poster with full-color illustrations of select trees in Illinois. This free brochure can be picked up at the Sangamon-Menard Extension office, Building #30 on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

The right tree that fits the environmental conditions can result in a lifetime of happiness for you and the tree, while selecting the wrong tree species can be a waste of money and frustration.

Contact Jennifer Fishburn at fishburn@illinois.edu.

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