408 867-0143 | Since 1973 | ISA Certified Arborist
Saratoga Tree Service

What is your purpose for planting a tree?


Size of area

How large is the area where you want to plant the tree?
This question pertains to the available root zone as well as what the tree will grow into. Are you planting the tree next to a foundation or near a walkway? Consider what the future roots may do to a structure or cement. Of equal importance, is the location of adjacent trees and plants.   Are the neighboring trees going to grow to a size that will interfere with the available sunlight for this new tree? Will the eventual size of this tree overwhelm the surrounding garden and overshadow the other plants? Will the tree develop a shape that may grow into the fence or building? Wide spreading varieties need wide open space. Be sure of what the future growth will be like. [top]

How many other trees are in the area?
All too often, people plant too many trees in a small area. Good urban forestry practices demand that the spacing of trees be equal to what they will become. Don't think the more trees that you plant, the better off you will be. All of the tightly planted trees will compete for the same available light and become disfigured.   All of the trees will become disfigured or one sided because of this crowded growing condition. It is better to have one good tree in a smaller area than multiple inferior trees. Exceptions to this would be varieties that grow well in tight formations such as birch or Italian cypress. Another mistake that we often encounter is the planting of a tree under the canopy of a larger tree slated for a future removal. In an effort to get a head start, you are shorting the new tree on the needed amount of sunlight for healthy development. The early years after planting are critical for developing a healthy specimen. [top]

Growth habits

What do you know about the growth habits of the other existing trees?
A client asked me to recommend a tree for an area of his backyard.   Looking at this space, I commented on the trees growing next to the fence on the neighbors side. The client only saw his space and did not think in terms of what the neighbors tree would become. If the client had planted any tree in this area, it would have been overwhelmed in just a few short years. Ask questions about what is already there, and how the other neighboring trees will develop. You don't want to make the common mistake of over planting an area. [top]


What is your soil like?
What seems like a very basic question, is so often overlooked.  If you plant a variety of tree that only likes rich soil, you had better have good rich soil. The same goes for sandy soil, clay soil or very poor, rocky soil. There are trees that thrive in all of these conditions so the best choice of tree for you would be a tree that matches your soil. Often I run into a client that tries to dig a bigger hole and fill that area with good soil.   This will work for a while but eventually the roots will exceed the area of replaced soil and enter the area of poor soil. At that time the tree will slow down development and start showing signs of stress. Another problem with this approach is that the roots may not even enter the poor soil area. They often will circle around as if they were still in a big pot. This will cause girdling of the roots and further problems. [top]


What is the drainage like?
Proper drainage can make a big difference in how well a tree will grow. In many cases, soil that doesn't drain well, will lead to root decay and tree decline.   In some instances, this can cause the tree to fall over. If you dig a hole, and fill it with water, you can determine how fast the soil absorbs the water. If the water stands in the soil for more than an hour without any evidence of absorption, then you have a problem to deal with. Sometimes the soil on the surface is added fill, and may be covering up a hard lower level. This can lead to a situation where a tree will grow in the upper soil and lead to future root rotting problems in the lower, impervious level. There are trees that will do well in soil that is slow to drain.   Drilling vertical holes through the lower compacted levels sometimes helps to remedy drainage problems. [top]


What type of irrigation do you have and is water a problem?
Any newly planted tree will require more water in the early stages of development.   The type of irrigation you have may be an issue as to the way a tree develops. Know what the needs of the tree are to determine the amount of water you supply.   The system you choose to maintain the needs of the tree, must be checked often to make sure it does not clog. Irrigation heads will sometimes get kicked or moved in a way that does not suffice the needs of a newly planted tree. Drip irrigation is often used but unless an adequate amount of watering time is allowed, the tree may only receive water in one part of the root zone. Another issue to pay attention to is if the irrigation spray hits the trunk of the tree. The constant wet, dry, wet, dry will lead to trunk damage and may kill the tree. Many areas have problems with water rationing. Another problem is poor water quality. A build up of salts or chemicals to purify the drinking water can have an adverse effect on trees. My best advise on watering is to do it by hand when the tree is young.   Build a burm around the root zone to contain the water and allow it to seep in rather than run off. And don't forget the mulch! [top]


What is mulch for?
I cannot stress the importance of mulch enough. It is also one of the most often forgotten steps to planting. In a natural setting such as a forest floor, the trees shed the leaves, needles and debris to make a natural mulch.   As this mulch breaks down, it supplies nutrients to the roots of the trees. The mulch also helps to maintain the moisture in the soil as well as preventing the soil to harden up due to rapid drying out. Mulch is a top dressing, generally two to four inches, of organic material. It is not mixed into the soil like an additive, it just sits on top. The mulch is vital in developing a healthy root system. I am always amazed by the yards that are kept clean by blowing away everything from under the trees and shrubs. If appearance is the issue, add an attractive mulch over the existing leaves and let it be. [top]


What type of sun exposure do you have?
In determining the exposure of sunlight to the planting site, keep all the variables in mind. >Where is the winter sun as well as the summer sun? Will the neighboring trees cast a shadow that may hamper growth? Will the future shadow of the tree you are planting affect the other landscape plants in your yard? What does the tree need in terms of amount of sun exposure. You may be able to plant a tree that likes the shade, in the sunlight, but will it thrive and for how long? [top]


How hot or how cold does it get?
In California, where I live, the climate is mild and very Mediterranean. Because of this wonderful climate, we are able to plant a whole spectrum of different varieties of trees. Tropical trees do very well until that odd cold snap. Jacaranda trees are so beautiful but what a shame when they die off in a frost. Some varieties of Eucalyptus also thrive until that unusual cold snap. Citrus trees and Avocado trees are also sensitive to a cold shock to the system. If you are a gambler or can accept an inevitable weather occurrence, then you decide on how important that special tree really is. If you are planting a tree that you want to outlive you, then plant something that does well in your climate as well as the extremes. Trees that like colder or foggy climates, such as some of the pines or redwoods, might have a hard time in Texas. [top]


Are there overhead wires or other obstructions?
I can't tell you how many times I find a redwood tree planted under power lines. Everyone should know how big a redwood tree will become so why would anyone plant such a big tree under power lines? The answer is a basic lack of looking up and around to try and see what the future will bring. It is a terrible thing to have the power company tree crew come into your yard and top the trees you have been growing. If a tree will grow into something that gets into the wires then don't plant it there. Lots of varieties of tree would be appropriate for an area where a shorter, smaller specimen is needed. The same goes for planting a tree under the canopy of another tree. If it will grow into the other larger tree, don't plant it there. Don't forget to project the future growth of the surrounding other trees. [top]


Will the tree be planted in a lawn area?
Many types of trees will do very well in a lawn. However there are also lots of varieties of trees that don't do well in a wet lawn environment. Be careful of the rooting habits of the tree in a lawn. For example, Evergreen Ash trees are commonly planted in lawns and the roots are overwhelming. They seek out the fertilizer that the lawns get and the shallow surface watering of the lawn also brings the roots up. Before you know it, the surface roots are so bad, you can't get the lawn mower around. Oak trees on the other hand don't like growing in lawn situations. This is especially a problem when they were used to a dry environment before the lawn came in. However in saying this, I have seen many nice oaks growing in lawns where they were planted in the wet environment and have adapted. Young trees will often adapt to an adverse environment, but not always. Finally, be careful of the sprinklers hitting the trunks of the trees as this can cause crown rot or damage the trunks. If the tree is a thin bark variety, this problem can be even worse than if it is a thicker bark tree. Redwoods, for example, seem to tolerate the sprinklers better because of the thick bark. They also like a wet environment. [top]


What type of landscaping will be under the tree?
Old oak trees don't like added irrigation so it would be a mistake to install plants that need a large amount of water under this type of tree. Some trees like lots of water so increased irrigation helps the tree as well as the flowers or plants.   Understand what the water needs of the tree are and plan an appropriate landscape. Sometimes it is best to leave the area under the trees void of additional landscaping. There are some varieties that shed so much debris, that the plants under the tree would get smothered. In this case, natural mulch is the best choice. Even the use of landscape rocks under a messy tree becomes impossible to keep looking nice. [top]


Do you have a pool?
Pools require special needs and the filters clog easily with the debris from trees. If you have a tree that also flowers, then there is added debris. Small leaves and needles can cause big headaches for pool owners. Bees can be attracted to flowering trees and they don't mix with swimmers. Roots from some trees can and do destroy pools and cement. There are some good choices for planting around pools but there are lots of big mistakes too. [top]


Do you want an evergreen tree or a deciduous tree?
When I start discussing the choice for planting a tree, most often I hear people say, "I want an evergreen tree that keeps its leaves because I don't want the mess". The thought of a deciduous tree dropping all those leaves scares a lot of people into not planting one. The reality of an evergreen tree is that it is ever shedding. All year long it is dropping stuff and shedding off the old leaves. A deciduous tree generally drops all its leaves at one time. Granted it makes a big mess, but just one big mess. Flowering trees have the added mess of spent flowers and often seeds or pods. A Japanese Maple for example is a variety of deciduous tree with very tiny flowers that don't seem messy. It drops all of the leaves in a period of about three weeks and the rest of the year, they seem very clean. People who plant a Camphor tree, (an evergreen), are often irritated that they rake up the leaves every week only to find more on the ground after they are finished. This Camphor is an example of a good lawn tree that is often hated because of the constant mess. [top]


Do you want a tree with flowers?
Flowering trees can be an incredible asset to a landscape or a source of irritation from the mess. A beautiful flowering tree such as a Jacaranda or Albezzia can be so beautiful that cars will stop to look.  If the same tree gets tracked into the house or messes up the yard, it can loose some of its charm. Big flowers seem to be worse than small flowers. Some flowers turn into messy seed pods and that is another problem. There are varieties such as Crepe Myrtle that don't grow too fast or get too big, so the mess becomes more tolerable. Dogwoods are beautiful and don't seem to be too messy.  Some trees flower for long periods of time such as a Hawthorn. Others are one big show, and it's over, like Acacias.  You may want to choose a background accent for your landscape that blends well with the color scheme. Color doesn't always have to come from flowers. Orange trees have pretty orange balls for a long time. Some trees have different color foliage such as a Purple Leaf Plum or Copper Beech. Also think about beautiful trunks such as White Birch. [top]

Fruit or nut

Do you want fruit or nuts?
This a simple question if you are planning an orchard but if it is a landscape tree, fruit or nuts can be an added bonus to the landscape.  A big Walnut tree provides lots of shade as well as food. It also attracts squirrels and drops those same nuts so choose wisely. Citrus trees are great landscape additions that are not too messy.If you are lucky enough to be in a climate that allows this frost sensitive type of tree to grow, they might just fit your need. Avocados are also big shade trees that provide a valuable food.  It is important to understand the special needs of fruit and nut trees. Most have insect pests that need special attention as well as the need for continued pruning. If you don't keep up on the pruning needs for an Apricot or Peach, your production will fall off. If a fruit tree gets too heavy of a crop, then branches may need propping to prevent breaks. Some trees need sprays to prevent such problems as Peach Leaf Curl. All trees have their own problems but it seems that if there is fruit involved, the tree needs extra attention. But then, all good things in life have a price attached, don't they. [top]


Are you concerned with insect problems? Bees? Pesticides?
There are some great trees that are hosts to insect pests that sometimes makes the tree intolerable. A Tulip tree can be a beautiful lawn or shade tree, but plant it near a walkway or where cars park, you end up with a tree that is hated.  Aphids cause the trees to drip a sticky honeydew for many months. If you forget to spray the tree early on in the season, the problem persists until the leaves are gone in the fall. Trees that have beautiful flowers often attract bees.   If allergies to bees are something to be careful of then choose wisely. Pesticide application is often the only solution to some insect problems but there are people with great aversions to sprays. Even great Oaks are sometimes plagued by caterpillars that can defoliate an entire tree. There are choices of trees that are not greatly affected by insects.Problems come and problems go, but if you pick a tree that is not prone to problems, you are less likely to be troubled. There are some trees such as the Monterey Pine and Monterey Cypress that were touted as great landscape trees thirty years ago. They were planted in vast numbers and now they are being killed off by beetles and disease. Twenty years ago, these same trees were doing fine. Insects from far off lands are invading our landscapes and causing devastating damage to trees. Eucalyptus Long Horn Borer was not here ten years ago but is not causing sever damage and death to Eucalyptus trees. Ask questions about pest problems with what ever variety you choose so there are no surprises. [top]

Tree size

How large of a tree do you want to buy? 5 gal? 15 gal? Box?
In the desire to get a head start on growth, people often want the largest tree available in a container. What these people don't think about is the condition of the roots in a pot. Sometimes a larger container is not the best choice. If the tree is a variety that grows fast, it may be root bound in the pot. If you plant a tree that has roots growing around in the container, it will continue to girdle its roots in the ground. This may lead to an unstable tree or more often a tree that doesn't develop properly. I often tell a story that explains this very well. In 1980, I planted two trees in my yard.  They were both Deodar Cedars and were both planted in like soil conditions. One tree was a 15 gallon and I intended to use it to hide a phone pole in the back corner.  The second was only a 1 gallon with a balanced root system in a pot. Both trees received the same type of irrigation over a wide area. The 15 gallon tree is about forty feet tall today.  The 1 gallon tree has far exceeded the other and today is about seventy feet tall but the trunk is twice as large and very straight. The health of both trees is good but the tree that developed a balanced root system grew better. This does not always mean you should choose smaller containers but if it is a fast growing variety, you better check the roots. Also larger containers can be very expensive. If the type of tree is a special slow growing specimen, the larger pot may be the right choice. Also, don't be afraid to pull the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots at the nursery. If they object to this, ask them why and ask them how long the tree has been in this size container. Sometimes you will find a 5 gallon root ball in a recently transplanted 15 gallon can. You paid for a bunch of dirt and a bigger pot! [top]


What are the long term maintenance needs of the tree you picked?
Some trees require more pruning than others. Some trees need to be sprayed often.  Still other trees require constant maintenance in terms of cleaning up after. Ask about the needs of the tree you choose so you won't be surprised. There are lots of trees that require very little maintenance. Redwoods are an example of a variety that rarely needs pruning or spraying. Your costs for upkeep of a grove of Redwoods can be next to nothing. Some of the complexes I work for have tree budgets in the thousands of dollars every year. Other complexes that were well thought out in terms of selection of the trees, get by on a fraction of the cost. [top]

Current trees

What types of trees are growing well in your immediate area?
In the process of selecting a tree, pay attention to the neighbors trees near the area where you want to plant yours. Often you can learn from the other trees what will grow well in similar soil.  If you see the type of tree you want to plant, growing nearby, pay attention to it and ask the owners how well it is doing. [top]


What trees work well in curbside planting areas ?
The cities have learned, through years of mistakes, which trees not to plant next to the sidewalks.There are some varieties, such as Liquidambar, that cause so much root damage, that they should never even be considered. Most cities have a list of preferred choices for these tight growing situations.  The selections are not limited to small trees, there are many large deep rooting trees that will work.  The way you plant the tree can also have a beneficial impact in helping the roots grow deeper. It is also important to remember what will happen to cars parking under a "street tree". If it drips honeydew from aphids, or drops anything that may cause damage to the cars, you may not want to use such a tree. [top]


What tree diseases are a problem in your area?
Oak Root Fungus, Dutch Elm Disease, Fire Blight, are just a few of the many problem diseases that attack some trees. Understand what the tree you are considering, may be susceptible to, before you plant it.There are many trees susceptible to a devastating disease called Pitch Canker. It would be a shame to plant a tree and loose it a few years down the line. There are lots of problems with trees that can be corrected, such as with increased irrigation or forms of pest control, but most diseases are not easily cured. If you avoid the problem trees, you may avoid a problem removal in the future. [top]


What about wildlife? Birds, Squirrels, etc.?
Some trees, such as a Texas Privet, develop dark colored berries that are eaten by birds and excreted on everything. Squirrels are cute but can be a real nuisance in your garden. I only bring up the issue of wildlife because I hear so often about how someone hates a particular type of tree because of what it attracts. If you are sensitive to the goings on of the critters, you had better find out what your chosen tree may attract.  Sometimes,you just can't control where the birds are going to perch. They will always do what comes natural to them. You can however, minimize this problem of bird droppings if you plan out where you intend to put your outdoor furniture or park your car. Note where the birds seem to perch most often and move to a different area. [top]

Clean trees

What types of trees don't make a mess?
None. They all make a mess of one sort or another. Trees are ever shedding and that fact is just a part of what you need to accept.  There are some trees that shed small leaves and it seems like less of a mess than others. Many deciduous trees make one big mess while evergreens shed all year long. Flowering trees generally make a bigger mess as do fruiting trees or trees with nuts or acorns. Some types of tree leaves are hard on roofs if left to build up over the years. Pine needles seem to rot shakes faster than most. Some trees drip pitch or honey dew from flowers. Others, like the Tulip tree, attract aphids and the dripping from the insects can make a huge mess on cars and the street. This type of mess can also be slippery for pedestrians. The issue of mess is one of most concern when people ask me for suggestions as to what type of tree to plant. I sometimes think that maybe this is one question that needs to be addressed first but in saying that, I also know that some people are just not happy with any tree mess. These people I cannot help.


The number one reason I hear for why people want to remove a tree is that they can’t stand the mess. If your location or your personal reasons can’t handle a messy tree, make a better choice right from the start. [top]


Check list of questions to help you decide which tree to plant.

(Fill this out to the best of your ability and show it to a nursery man or landscaper.)




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