Trees serve various functions. In our gardens we might use them for the shade they provide, to screen off the view of neighbouring properties, to block out the sounds from a busy road, or to provide food, shelter and roosting spots for our feathered friends and other creatures.
But trees take time to establish themselves. As 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, you need to consider factors that ensure both you and future generations can benefit from your mature tree.
Herewith are some of the factors to consider when selecting a tree for your garden:
- 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 depending on the species and the conditions under which they are planted. Some trees can grow up to 2m per year (under optimal conditions) but often these are very large species, which may in time outgrow their space - particularly in small gardens. Many of our most beautiful indigenous trees are slow growers, so rather than selecting a tree based on its rate of growth, choose one with the characteristics that suit your space.
- Evergreen vs deciduous
Decide whether you want a deciduous tree (loses its leaves in winter) or an evergreen tree. Although there is often a tendency to want to plant evergreen species - either for screening, year-round foliage, or to avoid a 'messy tree' - deciduous species only lose their leaves once a year (as opposed to evergreens which lose their leaves constantly), and some deciduous trees are some of our most beautiful species of all. Additionally, by planting a deciduous species, you could benefit from the cooling shade in summer but 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. In general, locally indigenous highveld species are waterwise, and once established will require minimal watering.
Find out if your tree is frost-resistant, especially 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.
- 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.
In conclusion, trees have a long lifespan (often exceeding 100 years), so we should view them as permanent fixtures when planting them. To learn more about indigenous trees and which ones to choose, read our Top 10 trees for small gardens article, visit our www.plantbook.co.za website, or ask your local indigenous nursery for assistance.