What size shade tree to buy? is a great question no one ever asks. It seems everybody just assumes you should buy the biggest you can afford. That’s what nursery staff will tell you right?
In a previous post, I wrote about three defects you MUST check for when buying trees. That covered looking for root related issues at the nursery. Today, I would like to talk about deciding on what size shade tree to buy.
A tree is a long term investment. You should start with a high quality plant. Trees eight to ten feet tall are often the best buy as far as price.
If the tree is difficult to establish, you can start with smaller plants. The irony is that if you plant larger trees, they will usually take a lot longer to recover from transplant stress and start growing again.
Trust me I know, I spent $240 on an six foot balled and burlaped Vanderwolf’s Limber pine, and $90 each on three 3 feet tall container plants nine ago.
Do you know which ones are taller now?
The ones that were three feet tall when I planted them. You know what else. The smaller trees were a heck of a lot easier to move and plant! It was even FUN planting them!
So why are the trees that were smaller then, larger now?
Newly planted trees are stressed due to the large amount of roots that are chopped off when they are dug at the nursery. This transplant shock leads to susceptibility to drought, diseases and insects. Transplant shock lasts until the balance between the roots and the rest of the tree are reestablished.
Trees that die often do it during this root-establishment period. A new tree’s odds of making it are improved if it receives extra watering attention during this time, which can be as much as three years.
What size shade tree to buy to minimize transplant shock
If you want to know what size shade tree to buy to minimize transplant shock, here are some guidelines.
Instead of planting the biggest tree you can afford, go ahead and choose younger and smaller trees to plant over larger ones. Although you can have nearly full-sized trees planted in your yard, smaller trees transplant easier and grow quicker than larger trees. They also cost a lot less and if you choose you can probably plant them yourself. Nurseries LOVE it when I say this! Guess which ones they make the most money off of!
It’s best to start with a tree that has a 1- to 1.5 inch trunk diameter if you want it to start growing right away. Although trees up to 2.5 inch diameter can also be good as long as their root balls are sized large enough. Very small seedlings like the kind they give away at weddings or sell for $5 at Wal-Mart are too small. They take too long to grow to be useful.
But I want shade now!
All trees require time to reach their prime, but fast growers take the least. They however are often not the longest lived trees and often have brittle wood that can break easily when they get larger.
One way to get around this fact is to plant both fast and slower growing trees. The fast growers can provide shade in a hurry while the slower growing longer lived trees mature. Then you can always cut the fast growers down. Yes, you can cut a tree down!
These are trees like quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and other poplars (Populus sp.), willows (Salix sp.), silver maples (Acer saccharinum), and alders (Alnus sp.).
Look to slower-growing trees for long, trouble-free lives and enough strength to withstand wind and ice storms. Think oak here.
You can plant fast-growing trees with slower growing ones to get fast shade. When the slower growing trees have gotten large enough you can cut out the weaker ones down. You will get the best of both world’s quick shade and long lasting strong wooded trees. You will however have the expense/hassle of removing large trees. You also might not have the room in your lot to do this.
What if you are impatient but don’t want to have to remove your fast growing trees
If you want a fast growing LARGE shade tree, but also want it to last, take a look at these trees as some possibilities:
- Autumn Blaze Freeman maple (Acer x freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’), Zones 4–7
- Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Cully’), Zones 4–9
- Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Zones 5–9
- Dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Zones 5–10
- Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), Zones 4–9
- Northern red oak (Quercus rubra), Zones 5–9
- Green Vase zelkova (Zelkova serrata ‘Green Vase’), Zones 5–8
Note these are all BIG trees, If you are not sure which size of shade to to buy in terms of how big it will eventually grow, take a look at this post on that topic.