Why Put Trees in Yards?

Many newly constructed homes look like plastic houses from a Monopoly game—all alike, and all rowed up along the street. (If a large healthy native tree or two could have been left, that would have helped immensely.)

These homes, along with fresh concrete drives, walks or patios, and fresh unpainted decks of treated pine, almost have the appearance of a skeleton with naked bones. It’s little wonder most cities now require a few shrubs or trees be planted. (Unfortunately, most designers or builders are only interested in meeting the technicalities, not in pretty landscaping, so good intentions have not translated into eliminating the Monopoly house look hardly at all. Two maple trees and six shrubs does not a good landscape make!)

Why put trees in yards? And why are two red maples or two callery pears not good landscaping? Some folks just want to get out of where they are and into a new home, and I get that. But, with time, there is the need to make the yard look more natural, like it probably did before the land was cleared and the bulldozers flattened the hills (and the topsoil was scooped up and sold). Most homeowners eventually want to apply their personality, or that of their spouse, to the yard and dress it to compliment the house.

This is really when the trees should be planted; this is where planting trees can be justified. When the owners are ready to make the place look more like an individualized paradise rather than a cookie cutter house.

Trees play many useful roles in the landscape. They can frame the house to show it off better, or they can be planted to hide the house from the street. Moderating the temperature with shade, moderating the wind with a windbreak, creating privacy, screening eyesores, attracting wildlife, producing fruit or nuts, are some of the ways trees can be used to meet our needs as homeowners. Then, there is also simply personal preference or likes.

Well placed and carefully chosen trees can add greatly to the looks and comforts of a home. Be sure to select a tree or two that will age to perfection; most fast-growing trees become problems in 20 or 30 years. Try mixing up the trees, for diversity is good for many reasons.

Specimen trees can add much to a yard’s looks.  But, “specimen” by definition, isn’t “several”. Rather, it’s one tree that is outstanding. (Any nurseryman that tries to sell you on several specimen trees at one time is thinking of his next vacation more than how your yard will benefit!)

Shade trees are what the name says; they provide shade. Any large tree can be a ‘shade’ tree. Even evergreen trees—although they typically are recommended for the north or west side of the house.

What are some good shade trees? Well, it depends on where you live. Trees that are planted for shade in Ohio are not the same as those planted in Florida. In in my area, oaks, maples, sweet or black gum, tulip poplar, and the ubiquitous Bradford pear are used extensively. Sycamore, linden, elms, catalpa, buckeye, walnut, hickory, ash (until the borer problem), cypress, willow and zelkova are sometimes chosen. Southern magnolias, America hollies, pines, firs and spruces are evergreen options.

Breaking the wind from hitting your house full strength is best done with shrubbery, trees in the middle, then more shrubbery…a multi-layered planting. True windbreaks are planted some distance from the house…certainly not close enough that they would blow down and damage the home.

Screening either things we don’t want to look at, or to keep others from looking in on us, this is what we mean by planting trees for screening purposes. There are so many possibilities, so I’ll not try to list them. Both big trees, small trees, or shrubbery can be employed in screening. Even large clumps of grass or lawn ornaments or outdoor structures can serve in this function.

Greenery is good at muffling noises. Planting a row of trees or a hedge between you and traffic, the neighbor’s parties, or even between a cozy spot and your own home, can help with enjoying your place. Plus, the greenery cleans air pollution. (Well, some trees contribute pollen which is called pollution at times I suppose. Female trees would be best in that regard, but most people select males because of no nuts or seeds and make pollen problems worse.)

Shrubs (shrubby little trees, really) are useful where something tall isn’t required. Hiding the trash cans, doghouse, or gas tank come to mind. And, in a large lovely layered landscape, tall, medium and short plants create the most luxurious look.

Wildlife prefers less lawn and more trees. For food, shelter, nesting, hiding, and various other reasons.

Trees make our homes prettier, and our neighbors nicer. Another good reason to plant trees.

Spending a few hundred dollars on trees to make your two hundred thousand dollar home look better is a no-brainer! Even the tiny cottage benefits from good greenery around it.

Hiring professional help can get it done speedily and correctly, but if economics is a factor, small trees from a nursery or even those from a mail order house that come in a big box can work out fine. And our grandparents simply went to the woods or roadside and dug up something and took it home and planted it in their yard.

Fleshing out the skeleton of your place with trees and shrubs should be a fun adventure. Think of it as putting clothes on a naked body, and it will take on more appeal if you’re having trouble getting excited about tree planting!