Why We Plant Trees

Why We Plant Trees

Did you know there has been extensive research over the last few years that proves trees in forests actually communicate with each other through complex underground networks?

       What else might they be up to?  

COOL YOUR YARD. Trees pull large amounts of water from deep underground. The water travels through their branches and evaporates from their leaves. This process cools the air around them. The air above plants can be up to 9 degrees F cooler than above bare ground.

SAVE MONEY. Shade can protect your house from the radiant heat of the sun. That means less energy to power the AC, and less damage to your windows, walls, and roof so they last longer. That saves money!

FEED THE CRITTERS. Trees provide flowers for pollinators, leaves for insects, and fruits for all kinds of larger animals (including us). Due to their large size and vertical growth, trees make up the largest portion of living material in most landscapes. Therefore, trees have a huge impact on the food web. Choosing native trees is the best way to help wildlife in you area.

CLEAN UP THE PLACE. Trees breathe in a massive amount of air each day. They absorb carbon dioxide produced by animals and release the oxygen we need to survive. They also remove many toxic pollutants from the air while they’re at it. Tree roots filter water from rain and runoff as well. They pull pollution right from the water and chemically lock it up in their wood. Trees also support the web of fungi that live in the ground. These fungi clean up toxic chemicals in the soil.

DEEP MINERS. Tree roots can extend dozens of feet underground, where they obtain water and nutrients that later become available for the other plants around them. Fall leaves make amazing compost and mulch because they contain all those minerals that were pulled up from deep underground. Large trees also share much of the water that they pull up from deep underground.

EASY EASY EASY. Most trees require very little to no care once they are established. Think of a Live Oak tree that has lived 200 years without ever being pruned. Compare that to your boxwood hedge that needs trimming , mulching, weeding, fertilizing, watering, and pest maintenance every single year! That tree is a pretty good deal.

EXTRA BENEFITS. Boosted occupancy of rentals, reduced health care, prolonged street health, reduced noise pollution, reduced soil erosion, reduced urban glare, improved memory, improved concentration, improved learning, greater happiness, less stress, accelerated healing, reduced crime, increased compassion, added monetary value to your home

If you don’t have many trees in your landscape you should really, really, really plant some!


How to Plant Trees at Home

The right plant in the right place should be a dream to care for. Plants have spent untold eons surviving just fine without the aid of friendly human gardeners. Chronic garden problems are the result of us putting plants in the wrong places.

SITE SELECTION. I recommend you decide where you want a tree, for what purpose(s), and then find the right tree to meet your needs. Avoid locations very close to structures or under covered areas. Trees should be planted at least 7 feet from structures.  

  • small growing trees are best for locations closest to the home or structures
  • shading windows has the biggest impact on summertime energy savings
  • deciduous trees on the east, west, and south sides of the house will cast cooling shade in the summer, then drop their leaves to allow the warm sun during winter
  • evergreen trees are best on the north side of your house to block cold winter winds
  • trees can be planted anywhere for beautification
  • trees are healthier and stronger when planted in groups or clusters


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  • dig a hole that is 2-3 times the width of the root ball, but only as deep as the root ball, break up all the soil so there are no clumps left
  • fertilizer at the time of planting is recommended by some, but not by all experts
  • if you do fertilize at the time of planting, use an organic transplant fertilizer
  • when you refill the hole, be sure the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil, no dirt should be on top of the root ball
  • I recommend creating a small ring of soil around the outside of the root ball that can act as a dam to hold water when the plant is young
  • mulch your new tree well and keep it mulched (up to 4 inches of settled mulch) starting just past the root ball and extending 2-3 feet in every direction; use any organic material like pine straw, pine bark, wood chips, or leaves  


AMENDMENTS. Tree roots extend far out into the soil in every direction. The initial hole you dig to plant a tree will only contain the tree roots for relatively short period of time. Therefore, soil amendments for a tree are of limited importance.

  • I suggest adding soil amendments for trees only when the soil is of an extremely poor nature, like pure sand or rock hard clay
  • use compost in sand to add water holding capacity and nutrients
  • add fine ground pine bark to heavy clays to increase drainage


WATERING. Insufficient water is the number one reason new plantings fail. In nearly every case of poorly performing newly installed trees and shrubs, I find insufficient water to be the primary problem.

  • it is impossible to give exact guidelines for how much to water every single plant as the plants themselves have varying needs, and each location holds & loses water uniquely
  • I almost never see plants die from too much water, unless they are planted in poorly drained soils. If the water soaks into the soil, you are very unlikely to overwater
  • for the first year of a tree’s life after planting, err on the side of more water not less
  • daily water for the first few weeks, then at least 3 times a week after that is a good idea for the first year, most will survive with much less, but we want our plant to thrive


What Trees to Plant at Home

We must remember that trees and other plants are living creatures. They will respond uniquely to their unique environments. All the planning in the world will not guarantee that a tree will love the space you choose for it, or grow just as you want. As gardeners we must realize that we make our best guesses about what and where to plant, then we work with what we get. Give plants time to get established and grow, but don’t be afraid to remove underperforming specimens so you can try new ones.

Small Growing (10’-20’ average) great choices to plant near the home or patio

Native Wax Myrtle – evergreen, multi-trunk, likes wet soils but grows in average soil too, females produce lots of berries for birds, sun or filtered light

Native Redbud – deciduous, sprawling canopy, gorgeous pink to purple blooms in late winter, best in filtered light

Native Red Buckeye – deciduous, lovely rounded canopy, sun or shade, stunning red flowers spikes in later winter

Native Fringe Tree (Greybeard) – deciduous, multi-trunk, flowers like pure white spanish moss in spring time, females produce large berries for wildlife, slow growing, sun to partial sun

Giant Hawthorn – ‘Majestic Beauty’ and ‘Rosalinda’ are both lovely choices, evergreen, sprawling canopy, can be trimmed to desired shape, full sun, masses of pink blooms in spring

Sweet Viburnum – usually grown as a hedge but make a lovely evergreen tree, super-fast growth, trouble free, full sun to partial sun, can be trimmed to desired shape

Loropetalum – ‘Zhu Zhou’ and ‘Carolina Midnight’ grow into lovely small trees, evergreen, purplish red foliage, amazing spring blooms, easy-care, full sun

Native Crabapple – deciduous, scrubby growth when young but they form amazing small trees as they mature, pink and white spring flowers, masses of fruit for wildlife in late summer, full sun

Native Florida Leucothoe – underused evergreen, arching branches have a gentle & delicate feel, small white flowers in spring for pollinators, sun or shade, likes wet to average soil

Flowering Crabapples – many ornamental varieties available, some are not suited for our southern climate, pink and white blooms available, small fruits for birds late summer, full sun

Japanese Magnolias – a Tallahassee garden tradition, deciduous, multi-trunk, late winter blooms in countless shades of white, pink, and purple, best as understory trees in bright filtered light

Japanese Maples – showpiece trees used as focal points, deciduous, amazing fall color, comes in red leaf and green leaf varieties, ‘Bloodgood’ is most common in Tallahassee with red leaves and tolerant of full sun, most do well with shade in the afternoon

Crape Myrtles – the most popular urban tree worldwide due to its extremely strong nature, durable trees come in many varieties that grow to different sizes and produce different colored flowers, months of summer blooms, full sun.

Fruit Trees – apples, peaches, plums, mayhaws, and so many more have showy spring flowers, most fruit trees are small and manageable growers, home-grown fruit is so rewarding, full sun


Medium Growing (20’-40’ average) good choices for planting out in the yard

Chinese Pistachio– beautiful rounded canopy, delicate leaves cast a nice light shade, deciduous, best fall color for our area, great plant to create shade for a camellia garden, full sun

Taiwan Cherry– super-fast growing, deciduous, generally the first flower color in late winter, rich pink blooms create a cloud of petals and happy bees, full sun to partial sun

Chinese Fringe Tree– slow growing, deciduous, tight clusters of white flowers in spring, reliable blooms after warm or cold winters, can be trimmed into desired shape, full sun to partial sun

Loquat– fast growing evergreen, large tropical-look leaves, fruit in early spring is tasty and also good for migrating birds, full sun to partial sun

Weeping Willow– a real showpiece if you have a wet spot, loves wet soil, plant next to a pond or stream, stunning and unique growth habit, full sun

Chinese Elm– ‘Drake Elm’ is the most popular form in our area, fast growing, deciduous, tolerant of almost any situation, full sun to partial sun

Arizona Cypress- evergreen, comes in various shades of blue-green, full sun

Crape Myrtles– the most popular urban tree worldwide due to its extremely strong nature, durable trees come in many varieties that grow to different sizes and produce different colored flowers, months of summer blooms, full sun,

Native Hollies– the Dahoon and American hollies (plus their hybrid offspring like ‘Savannah’ and ‘East Palatka’) are tough as nails in our area, evergreen, pollinator friendly, berries for birds, full sun to partial sun


Large (40’ +) plant these big guys & gals far from the house to cast shade over the whole yard

Native Red Cedar– evergreen, females make berries for birds, good nesting for wildlife, full sun

Native River Birch– fast growing, vertical growth habit, quick shade, deciduous, full sun

Native Sweetgum– I’m not kidding, this tree deserves way more respect, produces food for masses of wildlife, makes great firewood if cut fresh, has good wind-resistance, and shows some of the best and most reliable fall color in North Florida, deciduous, full sun

Native Tulip Poplar– deciduous, fast growing, very large mature size, pretty flowers, full sun

Native Live Oak– the quintessential southern tree, long-lived, durable, majestic, feeds countless animals and insects with leaves and acorns, provides homes for birds, bats, and mammals, much faster growing than most realize at up to 3’+ per year when happy, evergreen, full sun

Nuttall Oak– a great spreading tree to create massive amounts of shade, deciduous, thrives in compacted and wet soils in urban areas, full sun

Native Southern Magnolia– a classic evergreen, huge fragrant blooms in summer, full sun

Native Bald Cypress– grows in wet or average soils, very few knees are found when grown in regular soil, upright growth habit, casts soft shade, deciduous, full sun

Native Maples– various species to choose from, all produce pretty fall color, leaves make wonderful mulch and compost, most tolerate wet soils too, deciduous, full sun.

Native Sabal Palm– the state tree of Florida, evergreen, wonderful trees feed and house all manner of wildlife, grows in all kinds of soil conditions, full sun to partial sun

Native Winged Elm– a local favorite that doesn’t get much attention, pretty trees are sturdy and well branched, bark has interesting growth features, deciduous, full sun