How to choose a tree

CandideZA
Published on September 2nd 2020
20
A group of people standing in front of a tree
Choosing a tree can be quite a daunting task due to the many factors to take into account and also the many different tree species there are to choose from.
A tree in a forest
Trees are truly one of the most incredible specimens on mother earth. We often take them for granted and don't realise just how special they are, providing food and nesting for birds and other animals and insects alike, adding beauty, shade, and structure to our gardens and last but not least supplying oxygen.
A large tree
The most important thing that you should do if you consider planting a tree, is your homework. Don’t be responsible for writing the death certificate of a tree by planting it in the wrong place.
Below we have outlined a few things to take into account when you choose a tree for your garden:
A bird perched on a tree branch

Function

This is the first thing to think about before you start searching for your tree. Do you want a tree for screening, privacy, or perhaps a windbreak? Are you looking for a feature tree or perhaps a tree that will attract wildlife to your garden? Do you want your tree to produce edible fruit or perhaps grow into a big tree that creates a lot of shade?
A bird perched on a tree branch

Conditions in your garden

Take some time and observe the conditions in your garden to understand the elements to which the tree will be exposed. Do you live close to the coast where there might be a lot of wind of more inland where frost is prevalent? Also, consider the sun and shade patterns of your garden during the seasons.
Lastly, it is important to also have a look at the soil in your garden. If you live close to the coast you might have sandy soil. These things play a vital role in the success and overall health of a tree.
A group of people standing next to a tree

Available space

Some trees can reach incredible heights in their lifetime of growth and it is thus important to ensure you choose the right sized tree for the available space in your garden. Also remember to take factors into account that might prohibit the available space and also get damaged by trees' roots or branches, like paving, walls, buildings, or even a swimming pool.
Lastly, from an aesthetical point of view, you should ensure that the tree you choose will relate to your space. Just imagine how lost a small single-stemmed tree will look in a large open lawn.
A small bird perched on a tree branch

Health

Take your time, and inspect the tree that you are interested in, in the nursery before you buy it. Here is a shortlist of things to look out for:
  • The overall look of healthiness
  • No signs of deficiencies (brown, yellow or curled leaves)
  • Minimal dead or wounded branches
  • One single top leader (avoid multiple leaders)
  • Well distributed and evenly rotated branches
A giraffe standing next to a tree

Deciduous vs Evergreen

A deciduous tree loses its leaves in winter and lets in some of that most welcomed winter sun. An evergreen tree never loses its leaves and will thus provide shade throughout the year.
Do you need some extra sun on your house during winter or are you not keen on raking up leaves? Perhaps you would like to create a shade bed filled with Clivia or you want to still be able to grow grass below the tree? Remember to ensure you find out whether a tree is deciduous or evergreen.
"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." Nelson Henderson

Tips

  • Trees with invasive root systems will not do well close to buildings, pavement, or a road.
  • Trees with flowers or fruit might cause a mess during their fruiting and flowering season.
  • Trees that are deciduous will drop leaves in autumn/winter resulting in a lot of raking ;).
  • Some trees require a lot of water, ensure you have enough supply.
  • Always make a big enough hole, filled with lots of manure and few scoops of bonemeal.
  • Some trees require more care than others, like fruit trees which require pest control and a lot of pruning.
  • If you're looking for a street tree, ensure that it can withstand all the stresses that come along with being out on the road, and please don't plant a tall tree below a power line, only to be topped by the municipality :(.
A close up of a tree
With world environment day coming up next week, ask yourself what role do you play in the conservation of our incredible tree flora? Why not buy a tree next time you visit your nearest garden centre? Have a look at our curated collections below for some inspiration.
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