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The Need for Trees

By Paul James

It’s time to plant trees. But which tree? Well, the choices are many, but to simplify your decision-making process, I’ve selected several of my favorite deciduous shade trees based on three criteria. Adaptability: not all that picky about soil type; Pest and Disease Resistance: not completely, but close to problem free; and Fall Color: variable, from decent to spectacular. Here they are.

Bald Cypress
This deciduous conifer will grow pretty much anywhere you plant it, including standing water. Yet it’s also quite drought tolerant once established. Some can grow to be quite large, but the dwarfish ‘Peve Minaret’ rarely gets taller than 20 feet. I’ve got three of them, which is to say I love them. Fall color is basically rust, but in a good way.

Chinese Pistache
You simply can’t go wrong with this tree. It grows at a pretty impressive clip, as in up to two feet a year, and tops out at around 35 feet. Fall color is rather variable, from yellow to orange-red, but it can be spectacular.

Shumard Oak
Reaching a height of around 50 feet at maturity, this is another outstanding choice. It’ll grow in moist bottomlands and dry, elevated sites with equal vigor. Fall color comes on a little late in the season, and is most often a respectable brownish red.

Also known as black gum, this is one of my favorite trees, especially the cultivars whose leaves emerge red, then mature to dark green, then turn yellow-orange to purple-red in fall. And talk about adaptability! It’ll grow in a swamp or a dry spot with no problem. Will reach close to 50 feet at maturity, and along the way the bark begins to look like alligator skin. What’s more, bees love the tiny white flowers that appear in spring, and birds love the fruit that follows.

Shantung Maple
Maxing out at around 25 feet, this is a great choice for smaller properties. Leaves start out reddish purple, then go green in summer, and in fall they appear yellow and orange, often with a splash of purple or red. Bark is interesting too, taking on the look of a cantaloupe rind as the tree ages. Yes, there are plenty of other great maples — Autumn Blaze, Brandywine, and October Glory among them, but I’ve focused on the Shantung because it’s my favorite.

Among the oldest plants on the planet, as in 200 million years old, Gingkos are the slowest growers on this list, but the payoff is well worth the wait. Their distinctive leaf shape makes them stand out in any setting, and their bright yellow fall color is electric. Sizes vary, but range from 20- to 100-feet tall.

Japanese Maple
Saving the best for last, Japanese maples are simply stunning, and no garden should be without at least one. They’re available in a range of sizes, leaf colors, and leaf shapes, and despite their seemingly delicate nature, they’re truly tough trees. The smaller varieties are great for containers.
And Finally — Flowering Trees
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention flowering trees — crabapples, crape myrtles, dogwoods, redbuds, and Japanese snowbells, as well as serviceberries and vitex (considered large shrubs or small trees). They’re all beautiful, but I think they deserve a blog of their own, so I’ll be writing one soon.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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