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The Big Decision: What Tree Should I Plant?

By David Yost, Plant Specialist

This winter’s snowstorm offered me and many others the opportunity to select a new tree. Finding the right tree for the right place is an important, challenging and fun decision we all face at some point.

I was thinking about Cercis chinensis ‘Don Egolf,’ a compact, slow-growing variety of Chinese redbud that was released by the U.S. National Arboretum in 2000. It’s a very prolific bloomer with a mature height of 9 feet, perfect for my townhouse garden. This plant tends to be wide and bushy, so I would need a young plant that I could train into an upright habit.

But then I saw one of the coolest plants of all time, Nyssa sylvatica ‘Zydeco Twist,’ a contorted variety of black gum. With dark green leaves in the summer, brilliant red leaves in the fall and a distinct, contorted form, this would make a great specimen tree. A native, this plant would help support indigenous insects and wildlife. There’s only one problem. No one seems to know exactly how big it will eventually become.

On the other hand, I’ve always wanted a Virginia fringe tree …

Let me back up. This story begins in 1987 when my home was built and the developer planted a cute, little Bradford pear tree in my neighbor’s front yard.

The pear tree may have seemed like the right choice in 1987. But when I purchased the adjacent home in 2004, the tree was clearly a misguided selection. It was now larger than the home, blocking all sunlight and rubbing against the house. Roots were lifting the sidewalk and branches were beginning to split and break.

But that’s not all. In an act of desperation, the tree was “pruned” by someone who didn’t know anything about tree care. During our blizzards the last two winters, the tree continued to suffer as major branches were lost.

The last straw came a few months ago when a snowstorm knocked off several large branches. These branches were now crushing my boxwood hedge and blocking the entrance of my home. It was definitely time for this tree to go.

Even before the snow thawed, I was making arrangements to have my neighbor’s tree removed. I asked my neighbor if he was ready to get rid of this tree. “I hate that tree,” he said, “but I don’t know what to do.” I told him, “You don’t need to do anything. I’ll have Merrifield Garden Center remove the tree and you won’t be able to see that it was ever there.”

I was a tiny bit sad to see it go. This tree had served as my “what not to do” example for several years. It also made me think about how much time, money and trouble this tree has cost over the past 25 years because nobody was concerned about the long term when deciding what to plant. Had a more appropriate plant been selected, it would now be a mature specimen adding value, rather than becoming a liability.

The good news is that I now have room to expand. After successfully taking control of my neighbor’s property on the east side, now I’m taking over my neighbor’s yard to the west. I’m not saying this is the right thing to do. But really, how can I be expected to confine my gardening to an area of 200 square feet?

Now it’s just a matter of deciding what to plant. It needs to be done right this time. Maybe stewartia, with its beautiful flowers, beautiful form …

Posted: 4/16/2011 8:34:35 AM
Filed under: flower, Gardening, planting, prune, Tree, Trees, Yost, David


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