Finding the perfect front yard tree can be an overwhelming and difficult process. With so many options and so many factors to think about, how can you be sure you’re making the right choice?
Choosing a front yard tree will impact your curb appeal and property value. Consider factors like aesthetic appeal, purpose, ecosystem/wildlife benefits, size, shape, root system, overall heath and disease resistance.
This is the biggest question to ask when choosing a front yard tree. And the answer may be two or three-fold. Some “purposes” to consider:
Trees that Provide Shade
If you want a shady spot to sit under, you’ll need to choose a tree that is larger and likely faster growing. If the tree is slow-growing, you may not be around to enjoy the shade of it’s canopy. However, faster-growing trees can come with their own issues like more aggressive root systems that can affect your home’s foundation or pipes. Faster growing trees can also be more susceptible to disease(s) and limb breakage. It’s very important to do your research before selecting a shade tree.
Some medium sized trees are also appropriate to use as shade trees in your front yard. Be sure you select a tree with higher limbing tendencies. If you choose a tree that starts branching 14″ from the ground, you’ll never be able to sit under it.
Trees that Create Privacy
Are you trying to block your bedroom window from the neighbors view, or hide an ugly view FROM your window? You’ll need to choose a very full tree whose limb height will be sure to match up with the height of your window.
If you are looking for privacy, you may need to search for an evergreen or conifer tree. This type of tree, like a pine tree, will not lose it’s needles in the winter months. I have several articles about narrow evergreen trees and evergreen shrubs if you’d like to learn more about trees used for privacy and screening.
If you have a considerable privacy issue, take a look at my tips for regaining privacy from second story neighbors.
Trees that Attract Wildlife
Do you want your tree to attract birds, butterflies or other animals? This can be a great way to enjoy some bird watching and help your local ecosystem.
The easiest way to attract wildlife is to select a tree that is native to your location. Try googling “native trees of Pennsylvania” or whatever state you live in. Native trees play a very important role in providing food, shelter and habitat to the local wildlife.
Trees with Aesthetic Appeal
There’s no denying that trees that you choose for your front yard need to have aesthetic appeal. But there are so many different characteristics of trees that in can be hard to really determine what to pay attention to. So, here are some things you should consider once you have a few tree options in mind. Compare your options to see which tree is the best fit for you.
Shapes of Trees
There are many different types of tree habits, or forms, such as weeping, conical, pyramidal, vase-shaped, oval, upright, broad-headed, erect, fastigiate, bushy, shrubby, nodding, spreading, wind-shaped and more. What looks prettiest to you?
There are several terms used to describe the shape, form or habit of a tree. This particularly describes the direction that the branches of the tree will grow.
- Spreading: horizontal sprawling branches, usually wider than high.
- Compact: tending to grow tightly and close together within itself.
- Upright/Erect: distinct upward growth, vertical configuration.
- Weeping: long, narrow branches which tend to droop downward.
When you buy a tree at the nursery, it may not look exactly like it will when it matures, so it’s important to find out how big the tree will get and how the branches will spread.
If you’d like to select a flowering tree, decide on the color of the blooms and what season you’d like it to bloom in. While many trees flower, there are a lot that only flower for a very short time. So also consider how long the tree stays in bloom for.
Make sure you also find out how the tree smells… I know that’s weird, but some trees (such as pear trees) have a really unpleasant odor. Some flowering trees (and flowers in general) are too fragrant for my taste. In addition, some flowers attract pesky insects or bees so you’ll want to consider that if you’ll be walking by your front yard tree each day.
Foliage / Leaf Color
Do you like leaves that will change color in the fall, or leaves that remain green? Do you want something that will keep it’s color, even through the winter? If so, you’ll have to choose an evergreen.
I think this is a really important consideration when you’re choosing a tree for your front yard. This is especially true if you’re selecting an ornamental, deciduous tree. This means that the tree will lose its leaves in the winter months if you get cold weather. So, your tree may be bare for a majority of the winter months. It’s important to consider what the tree will look like when it’s naked.
Some trees, like the birch, have amazingly showy bark that peels and looks really neat. Other trees have a craggy, gnarled looking trunk… which a lot of people like, but others really don’t.
The key is to do some research about the tree’s bark, trunk and branching structure (more on this below) to see what appeals to you.
Trunk and Branching Structure
Some trees have a single stem branching structure, while others have multiple stems (or some trees have both options). A lot of times the multi-stem options look more like a shrub, while the single trunk options look more like a tree. Multi-stem options sometimes are created due to grafting the branches onto the trunk near the base, and this can result in some really neat hybrid trees (such as the dogwood to the right that has both white and pink flowers mixed together!)
Seasons of Interest
If you have a small yard like I do, you’ll want maximum impact. I would advise finding a tree that will flourish over several seasons, like my Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry.
Quick Tip: You may want to read my post about landscape layering to better understand this concept.
But, interest in every single season may not be your main priority. Maybe you’d prefer something that blooms in late summer, because that’s the time of year that your garden needs a punch. Or maybe you are looking for something that will bloom in conjunction with other plants in your garden? Maybe you just want something that will provide a backdrop for other plantings? It’s really up to you, and your individual needs.
Other Considerations When Choosing a Front Yard Tree
Beyond the c
Tree Size when Full Grown
The most important thing to consider is how much space you have for your tree. Sure it looks cute now, but how big will it get in 30 years? Do you have the appropriate space for that type of growth?
Tree Root Systems
A good rule of thumb is that a tree’s root system can be 1-2 times the size of the canopy of your tree. So if you choose a tree that’s 20′ high x 20′ wide, the root system of this tree can be 20-40′ wide. So, you’d have to plant this tree at least 50′ from your home.
If you plan to plant the tree close to your home, make sure you choose a tree that’s an appropriate size and that has a non-invasive or contained root system. Root systems of trees are NOT created equal. Some tree have very shallow and non-invasive root systems. Other trees are known for having very destructive roots.
There are many horror stories across the internet of people who chose the wrong tree for their space and ended up with a significant amount of damage and extensive repair costs. So be sure to consider this important factor.
Trees with extensive, aggressive root systems can do some damage to your home’s foundation or even the sewer and water lines that are running underground to your house.
Will your tree get full sun, or be in a very shady spot? As a standard rule of thumb:
- Trees requiring “full sun” will need 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
- Trees requiring “full shade” should receive less than 3 hours of sun per day.
- Trees requiring “Part Sun” or “Part Shade” conditions require somewhere in between 3-6 hours of sun per day.
Some smaller trees that you may be considering for your front yard are actually called understory trees. These are trees that grow underneath the canopy of large shade trees of the forest.
Many deciduous ornamental trees (like dogwoods) are understory trees and will grow best in the high dappled shade provided by taller trees. So, if your front yard is wide open with little canopy for shade, a dogwood is probably not the best choice.
Tree Maintenance & Care
When choosing a tree for your front yard, consider how much maintenance it will require. Some trees require special fertilizers, pruning and/or protection from weather and disease. Always seek out the advice of a certified arborist when you need to assess your tree.
First, decide if you are willing to keep up with the maintenance required for the tree you plan to purchase. Or, would you rather select a tree that requires less maintenance?
Determine if the tree is cold-hardy in your growing zone. If you get a tree that’s hardy in zone 6 and you live in zone 5, there’s a potential that the cold weather/frost in the winter months will severely damage or kill your tree unless you take a lot of extra precautions.
Pruning a tree can also be expensive and time consuming. This is especially true if you choose a tree that too large for your space. Many non-experienced tree-trimmers use a technique called “tree topping” which can be very harmful.
Growth rates are a really tricky consideration when trying to choose a tree… especially for your front yard. Here are some factors to consider:
- In general, trees that grow slowly are less prone to disease and breakage than fast growing trees.
- Because the tree will be in your front yard, you may need to invest money to purchase a larger, older tree.
- Planting and establishing an older tree is much more difficult than planting a sapling. Larger trees require more water and a lot more care and maintenance… at least for the first two years after transplanting.
- According to the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael Dirr, author of 12 books and a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia, tree growth rates are distinguished as follows:
- slow growing trees: 1-12″ of growth per year
- medium growing trees: 13-24″ of growth per year
- fast growing trees: 25″+ growth per year
Native to your Region
Trees that are native to the region where you live tend to be the healthiest and will attract local wildlife like bees, birds and butterflies. So, do your research if you’d like to plant a native, healthy tree in your front yard.
Does it match up with the conditions of your soil? Well drained, clay, etc. Make sure you find a non-fussy tree or something that will thrive in your soil type…. or adjust the soil to your new trees needs before you plant.
Health / Disease
What kind of disease is the tree prone to? Some trees are very prone to disease and some are very resistant.
Often times, hybrids of trees are created to give you the best of both worlds: the beauty of the one tree with the disease resistant characteristics of the other.
Hybrids kind of reminds me of a mom and dad tree having a baby tree. Don’t we all hope our kids will get the best of both parents, and grow up to be their own unique person with distinctive traits of their own?
One example is the Cornus Florida. These beautiful trees were under serious attack from insects and diseases in the 1970’s and the future of dogwoods used by landscapers was in jeopardy.
To address concerns for use of dogwoods in landscapes, a plan was developed by Rutgers to cross-breed the native American dogwood (Cornus Florida) tree with the hardier Asian species, Kousa Dogwood (Cornus Kousa).
The result? A a new and unique hybrid tree, the Stellar Pink Dogwood.
Another example is the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry tree (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’) which is a hybrid cross between two native serviceberries, namely:
- Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea), and
- Allegheny Serviceberry (A. laevis)
Resources for choosing front yard trees
The internet is a great source to get started. Go on an arboretum website, or just google “small tree for zone 5” or something along those lines. You’ll be well on your way to finding suggestions and forums where you can ask question. However, with online research you always need to be careful about misinformation. So, be sure that the website or person you’re getting your information from is reputable. A few things to check are:
- Does the website have an about page and easy to find contact information?
- Is the author listed on the article with his/her credentials?
- Does the article cite information and sources… or is it purely opinion?
As I always recommend, create a Pinterest board of your favorites so you can go back to it.
Books and Magazines
Books and magazines about gardening can be a great resource when researching front yard trees.
I recently purchased a book called The Four-Season Landscape: Easy-Care Plants and Plans for Year-Round Color and just dove right in. I get tons of ideas from my new book, which I tend to carry around with me like a bible. It has a lot of suggestions for trees with 4 season interest (among many other landscaping suggestions). I highly recommend it, especially if you garden in the Northeast area of the U.S.
Seek out gardening experts in your community to get great tree advice and suggestions. A few places to look for experts are local reputable plant nurseries (not big box stores) and local botanical gardens or arboretums.
Contacting your local Master Gardener Extension will also put you in touch with trained volunteers that can assist you with all types of questions about gardening. Nearly all Master Gardener programs in the U.S. administer training through a state land-grant university and its Cooperative Extension Service. Extension Master Gardeners receive and recommend university and research-based information through the Cooperative Extension System.
You can also ask your friends for advice. If they live locally, they may have had good/bad experience with particular trees. Or, they may have mature trees in their yards already that you can go take a look at and see if you like them. My biggest help was in speaking to an arborist friend of mine who maintains a national arboretum nearby. He was able to give me really good suggestions for our particular zone (Zone 6) and help me choose a tree that would grow easily, give lots of interest and actually “fit” in the small space I have. (Thanks Mark!)
Take a Walk in Your Neighborhood
I have a doggy, so we walk every day anyway. But take a stroll through your streets and see what others in your neighborhood are planting. I started my search in the winter so I was able to determine which I didn’t like once they lost their leaves. The spring is so beautiful! Every time I take a walk there are new trees blooming and other ones changing. It’s quite magical.
Front Yard Tree Suggestions
Here are some small tree options that I would suggest if you have a small front yard. You can find your hardiness zone here. This will tell you which trees will grow in the weather conditions that you have in your particular region of the U.S.
A hybrid cross between native serviceberries, the ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry is an ornamental tree that grows in full sun to about 20′ tall and wide. It can be purchased as a single-stem or multi-stem variety and is adaptable to most soil types. It’s also fairly drought tolerant once established.
Autumn Brilliance blooms VERY early with showy white flowers in late April before the foliage appears. Edible berries (juneberries) taste great and attract birds and wildlife in June. Great autumn color of fiery orange-red will light up your fall landscape. An attractive branching habit and silvery-grey bark truly make this a tree for all seasons.
Full-Part Sun | 20-25′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 3-8 | Buy it Here
The Yoshino cherry is considered both a flowering tree and an ornamental tree because it’s typically planted for both its visual interest and profusion of white to pale pink spring flowers. An early spring bloomer, the blossoms arrive before the foliage of the tree even fills in. In the summer, this tree will remain a highlight in the yard because of its oriental branching pattern, glossy bark and dark green leaves.
Washington DC actually has an entire festival dedicated to this beautiful tree… also referred to as the Japanese Cherry Blossom Tree.
Full Sun | 40-50′ H x 25-40′ W| Zones 5-8
The Snowdrift Crabapple’s is a beautiful, hardy ornamental tree with visual impact during all four seasons. The Snowdrift variety grows to about 15-20′ high and wide and can be purchased as a single stem or a multi-stem variety. It prefers a sunny location and can tolerate a lot of different soil and moisture conditions.
A tree that brings color and interest in all four seasons, Snowdrift has a dense, rounded foliage habit that adds to its standout appearance year round. It can also be purchased as a multi-stemmed or single trunk tree.
In April-May, its pink buds form into snowy white blossoms. Glossy, deep green summer leaves change to yellow in the fall. 3/8″ -1/2″ round, orange-red crab apples will have birds flocking to your yard from late spring through the winter.
Full Sun | 15-20′ H x 15-20′ W | Zones 4-8
The Kousa Dogwood is a beautiful and hardy ornamental tree grows 15-25′ H and a horizontal branching habit that will extend this tree to about 25′ wide. The Kousa Dogwood can be grown in full sun, part sun or even shade which makes it a great choice for any home owner.
In spring, Kousa Dogwood bursts into action with showy white blooms that last from May to June. In late summer, Kousa produces an abundance of edible berries that can be used to make wine. The 1-2″ round pinkish-red berries have a nubby texture that also add interest. Purple to scarlet foliage adds intense interest to your fall landscape. And lets not forget its beautiful exfoliating bark and interesting branching habit that will stand out in any winter scene.
Full Sun – Shade | 15-25′ H x 25′ W | Zones 5-8
The Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a features attractive foliage with burgundy red coloring turns brilliant scarlet in fall. The interesting red-black bark provides striking interest in winter. This slender, airy tree is well-suited for use as a small lawn tree or for patios and entryways. One of the hardiest of Japanese maples, with good sun tolerance. Deciduous.
Native to Japan, China and Korea Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a small ornamental tree that grows slowly to about 25 feet tall and wide. It’s a slender, airy tree making it a great option for a front yard tree that adds year round interest to any home landscape.
Bloodgood can be grown in full to part sun and prefers moist, well-drained lightly acidic soil. ‘Bloodgood’ is a very common form of Japanese Maple with excellent burgundy colored foliage year round. This tree shines in fall when its foliage turns bright red.
Full – Part Sun | 20-25′ W x 20-25′ H | Zones 5-9
The gorgeous ‘Inaba Shidare’ Japanese Maple is a small weeping tree that has a shrub-like appearance. In spring, the leaves are a deep reddish burgundy and only get more brilliant through the year. In fall, the leaves turn a bright fiery red.
Full-Part Sun | 10-15′ H x 8-15′ H | Zones 5-9
Native to East Asia, the Japanese Lilac is a beautiful tree that grows to about 25-30′ tall and 20′ wide. It can be purchased as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree (pictured above). It grows in part sun, but produces more blooms when provided with a full sun location.
At its best in early summer, the Japanese Lilac blooms for about 2 weeks with huge (10″), fragrant creamy white clusters that are similar to lilac bush blooms but much larger. After the flowers fade, attractive seedpods will attract songbirds to your garden.
It’s attractive form, disease-resistance and non-invasive root system make this a great tree near a patio or porch where you can watch the songbirds and enjoy the fragrance up close and personal.
Full-Part Sun | 25-30′ H x 20′ H | Zones 3-7
Other Trees for your Front Yard
I have many other suggestions for trees in other articles. These are some of my favorite ornamental trees that provide 4-season interest. If you have a small amount of space, you may want to consider a narrow, columnar tree for your front yard. And if you want privacy, here are some skinny, evergreen privacy trees you may like.
And, if you’ve chosen your tree and you’re ready to tackle the next step in your landscape, check our my guide for landscaping your yard from scratch in 7 steps. Or, head over to this article if you’re just looking for ways to improve your existing landscape.
Deciding on the perfect tree for your front yard means you have to know what the main purpose of your tree. Consider things like shade, privacy and aesthetics. What makes a tree “look” pretty in your eyes? Is it a tree that blooms or bears fruit, the leaf color or texture, interesting bark or trunk structure, or maybe even the overall shape of the tree?
When choosing a tree for your front yard you need to analyze whether the tree will not only survive but thrive in that location. Is it native to your area and can it tolerate the sun and soil of your front yard? Do you have enough space for it to grow to its full size?
There are also many resources to find some excellent trees for your own yard. Try searching the internet, reading books and magazines, asking family and friends, or simply taking a walk to see what you like in your own neighborhood. Once you consider all of these important factors you should have no trouble deciding on the perfect tree.
This article was originally written in February, 2018 and has been updated to provide more robust and accurate information.
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