Tree Thoughts: Plan for a Better Spring

By Paul Hetzler

Looking for a way to enhance property value, save energy costs, boost mental health and help the planet in one simple, low-cost step? Yeah, me too. Let me know if you think of something.

Seriously, though, a few well-placed trees in one’s yard typically add at least 5% to a property’s value. Having large older specimens (of trees, I mean) around the house can push that figure close to 20%. In terms of energy savings, deciduous trees on the southern and western sides of a house tend to slash cooling costs by roughly one quarter.

Trees enrich our lives in subtle ways too. We recover from surgeries and illnesses more rapidly if there are trees in view out our window. Crime rates drop when neighborhoods are planted with trees. Plus, lying under trees might cure acne. OK, not sure on that one.

Giving genuine thought to site and species selection is critical to the long-term survival of landscape trees, and right now is an ideal time to plan for success. Any given location will be great for some trees, yet awful for others. Poor drainage, exposure to de-icing salt, restricted root area, overhead wires and shade are but a few possible constraints. Any of these attributes alone can lead to the decline and eventual death of certain trees.

On the other hand, that there are species and cultivars able to mature and thrive no matter what limitations a site has. A frequent arborist mantra is “Right tree, right place.” (Arborists have other mantras too, like “Please clean the dog poop before I arrive to look at your tree,” but I digress.) The point is that sometimes you shouldn’t plant that mountain ash or crabapple right where you had in mind. But somewhere else on the property could be perfect. If you only have one available site, there are plenty of great selections that will live long and prosper there.

One of my favorite resources on landscape tree selection is a free booklet put out by Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute. You can find it at Also, Tree Canada has an excellent resource page at Given the long winters in many areas, it’s good to have trees with off-season beauty. Here are a few ideas:

Red hawthorn berries.
Hawthorn berries. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
  • Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) are salt-tolerant trees maturing at around 7 meters (23 feet), which makes them good for under utility lines. C. viridis ‘Winter King’ has copious, persistent fruits that look great in winter and provide food for birds.
  • River birches (Betula nigra) are medium-large trees with attractive and unusual pinkish-white exfoliating bark. Heritage® (‘Cully’) is resistant to many pests and diseases.
  • Kentucky coffeetrees (Gymnocladus dioecious) are tall and drought-tolerant, with few pests or diseases. Their coarse-textured branches produce a striking winter effect. They are cold hardy to Zone 4 and are non-invasive.
  • For spacious sites, bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) has twisting branches with corky wings. A bur oak silhouette in winter is breathtaking. Especially if it’s real cold. These massive trees tolerate both drought and intermittent flooding and can live for many hundreds of years.

Val-des-Monts, Quebec resident Paul Hetzler is an ISA-Certified Arborist. He’s looking for new mantras. Read all about trees at

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

3 comments on “Tree Thoughts: Plan for a Better Spring

  1. Russ Clark

    We have a Kentucky Coffee Tree in our backyard which must be 50 years old. In the last few years it has started producing seeds (hundreds) with which It is relatively easy to grow new trees, but to date no one I know seems to want one.

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