You may have heard the saying, often credited to a Chinese proverb, that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, and the second-best time is now.
What’s less well-known is how to choose the best tree and the best site in your landscape to ensure years of enjoyment.
Putting the right tree in the right place will help avoid future problems and bolster the benefits the tree provides over its lifetime. Those benefits include providing shade for energy conservation, increasing property values, reducing stormwater runoff, providing habitat for wildlife and enhancing quality of life.
The best time to plant trees in Texas is November through early spring, and a little research before planting will increase your chances of long-term success.
The first thing to do before you plant is to look at the area where the tree would be growing, taking into consideration any obstructions as well as the type of soil in the area.
“Before you even decide what tree you want, when you’re thinking about planting a tree, look at your site,” said Mickey Merritt, Texas A&M Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program Leader. “How large is the site? What kind of tree will it support at maturity? Look for any safety issues. Where are the utilities located? Are electric lines overhead or underground?”
The wrong tree or an inappropriate site can be detrimental to property values and can lead to other problems and even safety issues.
“If you plant the wrong tree in the wrong spot, it could lead to all kinds of problems, including tree instability, structural failure, damage to sidewalks, driveways or underground utility lines, as well as blocking lines of site and obstruction of signage if planted close to a street,” Merritt said. “The tree won’t be allowed to reach its potential, which in turn stresses and weakens the tree.”
Once you’ve established the location, the type of new tree you’re adding can be determined by looking at why you’re planting it and what it will contribute to the site.
“What do you want that tree to provide? Do you want fall color, flowers, wildlife benefits, energy conservation? Do you want it to frame a view?” Merritt said. “Thinking about your reason for planting will help you decide what kind of tree you want.”
Establishing the purpose for planting the tree will help when considering other factors, including the size and shape of the tree at maturity and whether it will fit the design and layout of your property.
Other things to keep in mind include the amount of sun and water available in the planting location, the type of soil and the area available for the roots. Small trees need about 400 cubic feet of soil, and large trees may need more than 1,200 cubic feet of soil area at maturity.
Merritt said trees native to the area are usually the best option.
“They have evolved within the area, they handle the weather patterns and conditions better, they generally live longer and are healthier, are less prone to attack by pests and they provide more benefit to wildlife,” he said.
Across Texas, different tree species thrive in different regions. In the central part of the state, Texas Mountain Laurel, Lacey Oak and Mexican Sycamore are generally good options. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, American Smoketree, Bigtooth Maple and Gingo tend to do well. And in East Texas, in addition to pine trees, Eastern Hophornbeam, Pawpaw and Black Walnut trees are popular.
Invasive trees should be avoided because they decrease biodiversity by threatening the survival of native plants and animals.
For help finding the best trees for your region of the state, visit the Texas Tree Planting Guide at https://texastreeplanting.