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Selecting the Perfect Tree

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Tom LeRoy

The weather, last several years has had a devastating effect on trees throughout the county. Almost anywhere you go you’ll find dead and dying trees. If this trend continues we could see a real change in the appearance of the landscape and natural areas throughout the county . One of the best things we as gardeners could do to give mother nature a helping hand would be to re-plant at least a portion of what has been lost. Tree loss due to construction, and commercial and residential development, combined with the loss from the last several years of stressful weather could change what once was a beautiful pine/hardwood forest into a prairie. Fall and winter are excellent times for planting trees, allowing plenty of time for the roots to become established before spring growth begins.

It’s important to consider the type of tree that best fits into your situation. The perfect shade tree would include characteristics such as fast growth, a wide-spreading growth habit that provides good shade but not so much that the grass won’t grow, a root system that doesn’t cause sidewalk or foundation problems, strong wood that won’t break under high winds and of course no mess. There are a few candidates that get close to this “perfect tree,” but none can match it.

The issue of trees and mess is impossible to overcome. Trees are messy! They are large organisms that produce leaves, seeds, fruit, nuts, acorns, twigs, branches and bark. At some time during the year some or all of these things will fall to the ground. There is no question that some trees (sweet gum, mulberry, cottonwood, pecans) are messier than others but they are all messy. People are always calling the Extension Office looking for a tree for around a pool or patio that is not messy. Its about time we realized this is impossible and move on.

There are a number of good landscape trees you may want to consider that will come close to reaching that “perfect tree.” One of my favorites is the True Chinese Elm (Ulmer parvifolia) , sometimes called “Drakes” Evergreen Elm or Lacebark Elm. It has a nice spreading branch structure with a round crown. It’s fast growing and long lived making it a good choice for the new homeowner. The Chinese Elm is nearly evergreen, holding its foliage for about 10 months out of the year. As this tree ages the bark begins to fall off in pieces giving the trunk a lacy appearance, hence the name Lacebark Elm One of the drawbacks of this tree is the squirrels will chew on the bark of the limbs sometimes causing enough damage to kill the limbs.

Our native Green Ash (Frazinus pennsylvanica) is a very fast growing tree. This is not the Arizona Ash which is a terrible tree for this area. The Arizona Ash does great in Arizona but is not a good choice for Montgomery County. The Green Ash is a large tree that has a nice spreading canopy. Because of its fast growth, it’s a little weak wooded. It has nice fall color turning golden yellow in November. There are male and female trees. The females drop loads of seed which can be a big problem.

Another native tree that can be highly recommended is the Southern Red Maple (Acer rubrum drummondii). The Red Maple has beautiful fall color ranging from yellow to red. The tree is moderately fast growing with a nice rounded crown. The under surface of the leaves are silver which makes the tree shimmer when the wind blows. A close relative, the Silver Maple, which is not recommended and should be avoided because of its disease problems and short life.

There are a couple of oaks worth noting. The Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrada) is native to east Texas. It is one of the fastest growing oak species. It can tolerate wet soils, even standing water for prolonged periods of time. The crown is round and spreading making a beautiful landscape tree. Monterrey Oak (Quercus polymorpha ) is one of the Mexican oaks. It is nearly evergreen and a fast grower. It tolerates a variety of soils.

Our native pine, the Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda) should certainly be considered in any tree planting scheme. Try to imagine what our forest would look like were it not for this beautiful conifer. The tree is fast growing, relatively strong, deep rooted and evergreen. It tolerates a wide range of soil drainage as long as it’s acid and sandy. The Loblolly Pine is a much better tree than the more commonly available Slash Pine.

Trees add beauty and cooling shade to the landscape. We may not be able to find a “perfect tree” but what would the world be like without a few imperfections.

Don’t forget to send your garden questions to Plant Answers at 9020 FM 1484, Conroe TX 77303 or e-mail me at t-leroy@tamu.edu . For a schedule of our educational programs and events go to our Master Gardener website at: http://www.montgomerycountymastergardeners.org/ .

Educational programs of Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin..

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