Choosing a tree for your garden

Trees serve various functions and we may use them domestically for the shade they provide; to screen off the view of neighbouring properties; to block out the sounds from a busy road; and to provide food, shelter and roosting spots for our feathered friends and other creatures.

The ancient Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”  So, when selecting a young tree to plant, you need to consider the following factors to ensure that you and future generations benefit from your mature tree:

  • Full grown size of the tree
    When purchasing a tree, consider the average size of a mature tree of the same species.  To find out this information ask the nursery, do some research on the internet or visit your nearest botanical garden to see if they have a mature specimen.  Once you know its average mature size, check that this will fit in to your garden space.  Remember that a tree is three-dimensional and should not be planted too close to a building or boundary wall where it could damage structures and lead to expensive repairs.
  • Indigenous vs Exotic
    Indigenous trees, especially those that are naturally found in the area where you live, will generally fare better than most exotics because they have evolved to grow within your climatic conditions (e.g. rainfall, wind, temperature).  They also have the benefit of having natural pest control in the form of birds and insects that control the populations of creatures that use the tree for their survival.
  • Growth Rate
    Trees have a fast, medium or slow growth rate under optimal conditions.  Some trees can grow up to 2m per year (under optimal conditions) which can help you achieve the desired effect within a shorter period of time.
  • Characteristics
    Decide whether you want a deciduous (loses its leaves in winter) or evergreen tree.  Whilst a deciduous tree means that there is more maintenance in autumn removing leaves, you could benefit from the cooling shade in summer and the warmth of additional sunshine in winter.
  • Water Requirements
    It is important to find out whether a tree has high, medium or low water requirements.  This will help you determine its suitability for your garden situation depending on your soil type.
  • Frost-resistance
    Find out if your tree is frost-resistant if you live in an area that experiences frost.  As a general rule, most young plants will need some frost protection in their first 2 seasons.  Thereafter, if they tolerate frost, they should be adequately established.
  • Wildlife Attractions
    Trees attract various types of wildlife (birds, reptiles and insects) who use the tree, or parts of it, for various purposes (shelter, feeding, breeding, etc).  If you have a specific desire such as attracting butterflies, find out which trees will best attract them to your area.

Considering that trees have a long lifespan (often exceeding 100 years), we should view them as permanent fixtures when planting them as it could be a costly process to remove, relocate or conduct repairs from subsequent damage.  To find out more about indigenous trees, visit www.plantbook.co.za or ask your local nursery for assistance.