When it comes to buying trees, a decision made in haste can lead to a lifetime of regret. This is heavy stuff, man. Many trees GROW more beautiful generation after generation. Others have the potential to create decades of headaches, dropping messy fruit or ridiculously bothersome sticks into your tranquil retreat. So, just like you’d pick your mate, take your time and find the tree that offers the best combination of qualities you know you will enjoy.
Begin the process with a bit of introspection and ask yourself: Self, why do I want a tree? For shade? Privacy? Something beautiful to look at? Or to block the view of something not-so-beautiful to look at (like your neighbor’s messy backyard)?
A tree’s growth rate also may have a bearing on your choice. The late bloomers are hardwoods and tend to live longer. But if it’s important to establish shade or have flowers relatively quickly, choose a speedy sprouter. Typically, they’re smaller, have soft wood, and don’t live as long. Also, you’ll want to scale trees to their surroundings. Use small- or medium-size varieties for smaller houses and yards. On any site, put smaller trees near the house and taller ones farther out in the yard or near its edge.
Trees and shrubs are either deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and bare it all during the winter months, though the leaves often give one last hoorah of beautiful colors before they drop. Evergreen trees and shrubs retain their foliage year-round, staying (you guessed it) EVER-green.
What to Consider
Every kind of cultivated tree has assets that some use or another. Each also has certain requirements critical to its survival in the yard. Some are more cold-hardy than others, so check their Zone rating for hardiness. Many do best in rich, moist, woodsy soil that’s on the acidic side. Others prefer more alkaline soil that tends to be dry because it’s not as rich in moisture-holding organic matter. And some trees, like swamp red maples and bald cypress, can handle truly wet soil.
But take note, because they also have their liabilities, too. Some have thorns that make them unsuitable for homes with children or pets. Some are needy while others are weedy. Some are messy – sycamores and relatives of the London plane tree drip fuzzy balls, bark, and twigs all over the dang place. The spiked balls from sweet gum trees and the runaway roots of willows can present irritating challenges as well. However, if you choose the right place for some of these less-desirable varieties, you often can overlook their faults and enjoy their virtues instead. A sentiment that can and should be applied to all areas of life.
Size doesn’t always count (lucky for you, gentlemen) as a small tree is not always a young tree. If it’s small from lack of vigor, the condition of its bark will give it away. A weak one will have thicker bark that’s textured with ridges, furrows, or flakes, rather than the smooth, tender bark of youth. Certain trees are more tolerant of common urban conditions, such as atmospheric pollutants from industry and cars, compacted soil, poor drainage, night lighting, and salt spray from snow plows. Typically, city trees have much shorter lifespans than their suburban or country counterparts so choose wisely.
Trees With Potential
While there truly is a tree for everyone, these options have a proven track record of not only surviving in the often harsh Colorado environment, but even thriving in it:
Autumn Blaze Maple
Living up to its very descriptive name, the Autumn Blaze Maple glows red in the fall, brightening up any landscape. It has some drought resistance, which is great for (most) Colorado summers and can work well lining a street.
Although native to East Asia, the Sawtooth Oak makes for an optimal Colorado landscape tree due to its drought resistance and the shade it provides. Height and spread can be up to 60 feet, so be sure to give it plenty of room to do its thing!
This tree has it all – flowers, fruit, and brightly-colored autumn leaves. Apricot trees grow wide in diameter so they can take up a large portion of your landscape. They work well with Colorado weather patterns due to their cold hardiness. Plant one and plant one now!
Colorado Blue Spruce
Evergreen trees aren’t just for the mountains. Colorado blue spruce trees look great in yards along the Front Range providing shade and privacy. Because of the impressive size they can grow, they are not recommended for small backyards. If you’ve got a little room to spare, be a good Coloradoian and consider planting your own state tree.
Tricolor Beech (Fagus sylvatica)
This tree thrives at elevations up to 7,000 feet, as its broad leaves provide shelter from the sun and wind. Highly drought resistant, it also provides color to any yard – as the name implies, it produces at least 3 different hues as the seasons pass. That’s a lot of vibrant bang for your buck!
Bosnian Pine (Pinus heldreichii var. leucodermis)
This hardy evergreen provides a year full of green color and the shade that a pine can bring, but does so without completely engulfing your yard. SCORE! Bosnian pines are highly disease- and bug-resistant, while being the ideal size for many smaller yards..
Heritage River Birch (Betula nigra)
This tree is resistant to the bronze birch borer as well as to cold harsh winters. It thrives at elevations as high as 7,500 feet and grows well singularly or in clumps of trees. The tree displays color in its leaves – and even in its bark! As the bark exfoliates, it exposes areas of deep cinnamon-red and purple. A real beaut!
Winter King Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis)
Another tree that does well at high elevations and in drought conditions, the Winter King Hawthorn grows to a maximum of about 30 feet. It produces a crown of white spring flowers that give way to scarlet berries through to the winter, making it a colorful ornamental tree that lives up to its royal name.
And now, some species to steer clear of:
Ash – Avoid due to a lack of strength and resilience in storms, especially in heavy snow. They are also susceptible to the lethal and devastating Emerald Ash Bore.
Black Walnut – Prone to the cancer-like fungal disease thousand canker, which does not respond to treatment and kills your specimen quickly, the Black Walnut could rapidly become a wasted investment.
Russian Olive – Once planted often and throughout the Denver metro area, the Russian olive tree is now considered a noxious species in Colorado, killing off the native plants and changing the ecosystem for the animals as well.
Cottonowood – Due to weak wood and shallow root systems, cottonwoods are not recommended for residential planting. They are not drought resistant and can also play host to a variety of insects and pests.
Willows – Despite their wispy, sweeping branches, willows have overly aggressive water-hungry root systems that wreak havoc on irrigation systems, sewer lines, and septic tanks.
Don’t go letting the don’ts overshadow the do’s. No matter the environment, there is surely a tree out there just living to call your yard home! An old Chinese proverb says that the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago and the second best time is now. So what are you waiting for?!