Choosing a Tree to Plant

Autumn is the time for fall color. When a lot of people start thinking about autumn color, their minds travel to photos they have seen of New England, with old churches and barns among the Catskills and Adirondack Mountains, a burst in colors of red, purple, yellow, bronze, gold, and orange. However, when I think about autumn, I think about the two sugar maples in my yard, one gold and one orange-red. I think about their locations too, their placement could not be improved upon. Choosing the right tree for the right place is the most important thing for planting a tree.

‘Autumn Blaze’ Maple planted in front of the house blocks views of the front door, and from the windows. This tree would be better placed to the right of the house to frame the view.

Autumn is also the best time to plant trees, when the soils are still warm, but the trees are going into dormancy and transplant so much better than in the spring. Many times trees are on sale as companies try to lower their inventory before winter arrives. And so, droves of would-be tree buyers rove nurseries in search of a good tree for their yard. However, many times people come into the store with little or no idea of what they want or need, or where exactly the tree is to be planted. Most want fall color, but do not consider the rest of the year or if the tree has lots of maintenance. 

The author’s gold sugar maple helps frame the house from the back yard and provides a bright spot of color in autumn, amid a dark background of evergreens.

Unscrupulous companies or ignorant salespeople will sell a tree to someone, without giving them specifics of potential pest problems, planting issues, how messy a tree’s seeds or fruit are, or the mature size of a tree. When choosing a tree for your home, be prepared for a host of questions about location, the tree’s size or use, fall color, messiness allowed, and many others from competent salespeople.

Knowing your site is very important before buying or even looking for a tree. Is the spot in full sun or shade? Will the tree be used for shade or as an ornamental? What type of soil is it? Is it on a hill, slope, or drainage spot? As the tree matures, will the roots be too close to the foundation? Will the tree block windows or views? Are you worried about squirrels, birds, or insects nearby? 

The linden is a large shade tree with good yellow fall color, slightly messy seeds, and flowers for pollinators. This patio area may not have been the best choice for a large tree of this type.

After you have your site selected and are ready to look for a tree you must choose between the 2 main uses of trees-shade or ornamental? Shade trees are larger, typically 40 feet tall and wide and larger. Ornamental trees are small than this. Trees come in many species and cultivars and sometimes a genus of trees may have some species and cultivars for shade and others for ornament. One example of this is the maple. There are large shade maples such as ‘Autumn Blaze’ Freeman Maple and ‘Oregon Trail’ Sugar Maple, and then there are ornamental maples such as Paperbark maple and ‘Orangeola’ Japanese Maple. 

The ‘Orangeola’ Japanese Maple is a good, small, weeping tree for ornamental use.

Once you have type of tree selected, then you can begin to think about such things as autumn color, bark, flowers, seed production, leaf and twig messiness, pest problems, disease resistance, and winter hardiness. Another thing which I have noticed, at least with box stores, is that they often bring in trees that are popular among the public, which may not be suited for the area in which they are sold. We here at Grimm’s strive to select and trial trees in our arboretum to find the very best trees for Northeast Kansas and Southeast Nebraska. Some of our trees will do very well farther out, but some will not. 


If you have decided on a list of trees that fall into your categories for site placement, color, flowers, and hardiness, then you are ready to come into the nursery and look at trees and discuss the best options for your site. If you know all your site specifics, but are still not sure what tree you want, come to Grimm’s and ask our excellent tree salespeople for advice. We can certainly help you choose the best tree for your site and for you.


Happy planting!


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