Simple decisions to help you select the right tree

One of the most valuable assets we can add to our landscapes is a tree. Trees not only add beauty and diversity to our yards, but they also bring character and can cool our living areas during the summer months. From large to small and narrow to wide, trees come in all shapes and sizes. Some are evergreen with needles, while others have broad leaves that fall in the autumn months. It can be hard to make a decision about what tree to add to your yard when there are so many things to consider. 

In selecting trees to plant, walk or drive around your neighborhood to find trees you love. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

Having the choice between needles and true leaves is one thing. But, then you must choose whether you want spring or summer flowers, dark green or purple color leaves, or fall leaf color. How do you feel about fruit or cones and the resulting need for fall cleanup? The choices seem endless, but when choosing a tree for your yard, it can come down to some simple decisions as you narrow the field to find what you really want.

The first thing to look at is how much space you have, not only on the ground for the tree roots, but also above the ground where there may be power lines. The size of your home and whether you have other trees onsite will also affect how your new tree will grow.

Do you want a tree that provides dense, dark shade, or do you want flowers in the nearby bed to bloom, and the lawn around the tree to remain lush and green? If you want those things, then you should purchase a tree with a more open canopy, providing filtered light to the plants below.

In selecting trees to plant, walk or drive around your neighborhood to find trees you love. This spring has been beautiful, with most flowering trees holding their blooms for several weeks. This is a good time to take photos of trees you might want. Not knowing ahead of time what characteristics you are looking for in a tree can make the selection process at the nursery difficult. Young nursery trees may not yet show their mature form. Having your criteria in hand before you hit the nurseries helps the nursery professional show you trees that would be best for you.

Some considerations include choosing between needles and true leaves. Photo by Wendy Hanson Mazet, Cooperative Extension.

An eye-catching tree that people have asked about this spring is crabapple. Crabapples come in numerous colors and different sizes and shapes, most never getting taller than 30 feet, and many staying under 20 feet. However, not everyone enjoys their root-suckering tendency and the fruit that can leave a mess.

Other spring-blooming trees include golden chain tree with its beautiful long locks of yellow flowers, and purple robe locust with its violet, pea-like flowers. While both of these trees are absolutely gorgeous, they have a few problems. Golden chain tree is known to have serious aphid issues, while purple robe locust grows too quickly, producing a weak structure that causes branches to break and create a hazard.

Take your time when it comes to an investment like a tree purchase. The more questions you ask, the better prepared you will be to make the right decision in a tree you can enjoy for years to come.

Wendy Hanson Mazet is the plant problem diagnostician for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Have a horticulture question? Ask a Master Gardener by calling 775-336-0265, or by email at