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Trees are a beautiful and essential part of creating a healthy landscape design. They are good for the planet, can soak up water after a big storm, and add character your home. Trees are a big investment in money, space, and time, so we’ve created this guide to help you find and plant the perfect tree for your yard.
This guide includes basic information on how to:
Before deciding whether you will plant a maple or oak, pine or spruce, you will need to look around your yard and assess where you have space to plant a tree.
Look around. Never plant a large tree too close to your foundation, sidewalk, patio, or driveway. Large trees have large roots that can interfere with these important structural elements. A good rule of thumb is large trees, up to 70 feet or more, should be planted at least 20 feet from the home; medium-sized trees up to 70 feet tall, 15 feet from the home; and small trees 30 feet tall or less, 8 to 10 feet from the home.
Diagram of subterranean utilities. Solid lines are public utilities. Dotted lines are private.
Look down. Avoid breaking sewer lines, septic lines, or other buried utilities. Contact Gopher State One Call (800-252-1166) before digging, and they will come out and mark any public utilities. Gopher State One Call won’t mark any subterranean pipes or cables that aren’t owned by public utilities. That means if you have an irrigation system, low-voltage lighting conduits, a pool or hot tub, electricity to an out building, or a septic system, you will need to either contact the original installer for any maps of the lines or refer to any maps contractors may have left with you.
Look up. Watch out for power lines. Only short trees that reach a maximum of 18 feet tall can be planted under overhead utility lines.
Make sure to choose the right sized tree to help avoid any issues down the line. Make sure there will be space for it to grow without damaging your home, sidewalk, or driveway; blocking sight lines at an intersection; or interfering with pedestrian traffic (no one likes a surprise twig in the eye).
It is important to take into consideration your soil type and the amount of light your tree will receive. This page from the MN DNR is a great resource that breaks down what species are appropriate for different lighting and soil conditions.
Coniferous trees keep their needles all year long, which makes them an excellent selection for privacy and for breaking the wind or providing shelter on open lots.
If you choose a pine tree, consider that unlike deciduous trees that drop all their leaves at once, pine needles can be difficult to remove. They can be used as mulch in moderation, but their acidic properties can kill the grass nearby.
Deciduous trees lose their leaves. Great for planting on the south side of a home to shade in the summer and allow sunlight through in the winter. Some species will put on a beautiful show in the autumn.
Black Walnuts grow tall and stately. However they excrete chemicals into their environment to harm competition. This means any grass or plants under the shade of a black walnut will likely struggle to stay alive.
Cottonwoods are beautiful but are soft, large, and have a shallow root system which makes them unstable during severe weather and a risk to your home.
Quaking Aspen are a very interesting tree as they can spread rhizomatically underground to send up new trunks that grow into their own trees. The largest organism in the world by weight is a stand of quaking aspen in Pando, Utah. Unfortunately, this trait can make them a weedy plant in your backyard.
Ash – Beware the Emerald Ash Borer. Even if this pest hasn’t been discovered in your backyard, the core metropolitan areas of Minneapolis-St.Paul have been reached, and it is likely this invasive pest will continue to spread into the surrounding area.
Look for trees with these characteristics:
You can plant a tree in spring or autumn. Some species will prefer one season over the other. Avoid times of weather extremes, drought, wind, heat, or cold.
You can expect a little bit of branch or twig dieback, and reduced leaf production after planting your tree. Don’t worry; your new tree is establishing strong roots underground.
UMN Extension and nursery professionals are both fantastic resources if you have more questions about how to select and care for your new tree.
UMN Extention Planting and transplanting trees and shrubs
MN DNR – Choosing the Right Tree or Shrub for Your Area
Treesaregood.com – Buying High-Quality Trees
UMN Extension – Tree Selection and Care
UMN Extension – Recommended Trees for Minnesota
Stihl USA – 10 Steps to Plant a Tree Properly
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Examples of the different types of outdoor lighting: path lights, uplights, downlights, and wash lights.