Living in a tree-filled neighborhood is a dream, isn’t it? These leafy, idyllic streets that turn bright colors in the fall are incredible visual treats for most of the year, but there are many other benefits of growing trees in your yard.
No matter where you live, there is some type of tree that can help your heating and/or air conditioning work more efficiently. Trees can be of great help in battling your electric bills as they can act as an effective windbreak, reduce the amount of sunlight hitting your home and refrigeration equipment, and even strategically let in light during those dark autumn and winter days.
“Planting trees can save homeowners money on utilities when they are planted properly,” says Peter Moe, director of the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska, Minnesota. “Deciduous trees are great for homeowners because they shade homes in the summer but let sunlight in after the leaves fall in the fall. Evergreen trees planted on the northwest side of a house can keep cold winter winds out.”
A paper published this year in the journal Energy and Buildings further explores this concept of tree-based energy efficiency. The authors explain that the correct arrangement of just two trees can save up to 40% heating energy and up to 18% cooling energy during heat waves.
You may think your trees are just pretty faces on your lawn, and you may already know that they help you keep your home’s climate under control. But did you know that trees also attract wildlife and can help bring nature’s beauty right to your own window?
“More wildlife can offer the joys of birdwatching, which can be an enjoyable everyday experience,” says Sarah Barnard, an interior designer at Sarah Barnard Design LLC in Los Angeles, California, and a certified naturalist. “Some trees can attract butterflies, like oak trees, which attract California sister, darkwing, and hairstreak butterflies, among others.”
Your plantings also help animals find safer places to raise their young and forage for food — if they’re brave enough to get that close to civilization. The key to more wildlife is planting a solid mix of plant species in the home landscape.
“Homeowners who want to support wildlife should try to plant a diverse mix of trees, since many birds, animals, and insects have specific and preferred host plants,” says Moe. “When you’re just starting out, oak trees make good host plants because they provide food, shelter, and nesting sites for more species of birds, animals, and insects than any other group of trees.”
Although most people don’t consider their impact on rain events, trees can actually help prevent lawn washout and absorb water faster after heavy rains. Because trees have such large root systems, their impact on soil is massive.
“Trees can help regulate water flow by allowing rainwater to be absorbed into the soil rather than run off down the drain,” said Alan Duncan, founder of Solar Panels Network USA in Denver, Colorado, where he regularly includes trees in energy efficiency plans for Homeowners involved. “This will help replenish our groundwater supplies, reduce flooding and soil erosion, and may even improve water quality.”
There’s a little more to growing a tree in your yard than digging a random hole, sticking a stick in it, and hoping for the best. Although this is an easy project for any homeowner, some care needs to be taken in choosing the tree and planting location.
“The best placement for a tree depends on the specimen and its growth rate and growth habits,” says Scott Berry, president of Evergreen Hardscaping & Tree Care in Wilmington, Delaware. “You wouldn’t want to plant a white oak tree five feet from your foundation. Plant larger trees farther from the structure—at least 20 to 30 feet if possible—and smaller ornamental trees much closer to the house.”
Another serious consideration is where the roots and shoots will end. If you have underground or above-ground utility lines in this part of your yard, you risk damaging the pipes and wires as the tree grows.
“When choosing a planting location, homeowners need to consider the mature size of the tree as well as underground and above-ground service lines,” says Moe. “Also, you want your trees to fit in with the landscaping of your home, and you need to consider where shade is desired at certain times of the day. For example, do you want a shady terrace or a sunny one in the late afternoon?”
Once planted, a tree should have plenty of room to grow. An ancient solution to poor placement is a technique called topping, which involves chopping down the top of the tree by a significant amount. Experts say it’s not a good solution.
“When tending to trees after planting, remember not to overdo them,” says Barnard. “It can irreversibly harm or damage trees because the reduced leaf surface area makes it harder for the tree to produce food, creates more areas of direct sunlight, and provides openings for disease and pests.”
Choosing the best tree for you
When you’re ready to choose your tree, there’s a lot to consider, including how much space you have for it to grow, what problems it’s designed to solve — including keeping wildlife and improving indoor climate efficiency — and where it can safely take root without causing a power outage. Even with all of these things in mind, the list of potential trees can be staggering, but there are a few standout features for most landscapes.
“Oak trees are usually great for this, but they can get quite large,” says Berry. “Tulip poplars are also a good choice, as are certain maple species. There are many choices, but remember they will each have their own unique challenges when it comes to how and when to shed leaves and seeds.”
In short, the best tree is a tree you understand. From its early needs while trying to gain a foothold, to the size it will attain as a fully grown specimen, and how much dirt it will produce in the spring and fall, a tree you really know is the right tree for your landscape.