What is the purpose of your tree?
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:
- For shade: If you want a shady spot to sit under, you’ll need to choose a tree with higher limbing. If you choose something that starts branching 14″ from the ground, you’ll never be able to sit under it.>
- For 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.
- To attract wildlife: Do you want your tree to attract birds, butterflies or other animals?
- Aesthetics – Obviously everyone wants a pretty tree… so this may be the biggest consideration when choosing your new tree.
What does “pretty” mean to you?
Here are a few tree features that you can consider:
- Flowers – if so, what color? Make sure you find out how the tree smells… I know that’s weird, but some trees (such as a Pear tree) will have a really unpleasant odor. Some are too fragrant for my taste. And some flowers attract pesky insects or bees so you’ll want to consider that if you’ll be walking by it each day.
- 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.
- Bark – some trees, like the birch, have amazingly showy bark that peels and looks really neat. Other trees have sort of a craggy looking trunk… which a lot of people like, but others really don’t. Do some research to see what you like.
- Trunk – 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!)
- Shape – There are many different types of tree habits, such as weeping, conical, shrubby, bushy, pyramidal. What looks prettiest to you? Check out the chart for some illustrations of the different tree habits.
What front yard tree is right for your home?
When choosing a tree you need to think about whether or not the tree will work in your space. Is there enough room, enough light, the right type of soil, etc. Here are some things to consider once you have a few tree options in mind. Compare your options to see which tree is the best fit for you.
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?
How close is it to your house? If it’s close, make sure you choose something with a non-evasive root system.
Will it get full sun, or be in a very shady spot?
How much maintenance does it require? Some trees require special fertilizers, pruning, or protection from frost. Is that something you’re willing to keep up with or would you rather something with less maintenance?
Is it hardy in your zone? If you get a tree hardy in zone 7 and you live in zone 5, there’s a potential that the cold weather in the winter will kill it. Make sure you do your research and find something native to your area for the healthiest tree.
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… it 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, pictured below. 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 to cross-breed the native American dogwood tree with the hardier Asian species, Cornus kousa, commonly called Kousa dogwoods, producing a new and unique hybrid tree, the Stellar Dogwood.
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. 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.
Getting Suggestions & Ideas
- The internet: 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. As I always recommend, create a Pinterest board of your favorites so you can go back to it.
- Books: 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.
- Family and Friends: Ask 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 5), 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!
- Go for a walk: I have my doggy Roxy, 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.
My Picks for Zone 5 Front Yard Trees
Here are some options that I would suggest if you have a small front yard. By the way I live in Northeast Pennsylvania which is hardiness Zone 5… so these suggestions will work in my zone. You can find your hardiness zone here.
I’d highly recommend the Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry. It’s got interest in all four seasons and is on the small side if you don’t have a lot of space. But, if that doesn’t float your boat, here’s a few more suggestions of small trees with lots of seasonal interest:
- Yoshino Cherry Tree: I have this tree in my backyard but I wouldn’t think twice about putting one front and center.
- Crabapple, Snowdrift: Its pink buds burst into a snowy white show in mid-spring. But while spring is the tree’s standout season, it does offer visual impact year-round. Glossy, deep green summer leaves change to yellow in the fall, and orange-red fruit persists through the winter, attracting the favor of feathered friends.
- Kousa Dogwood: This is a beautiful and hardy tree, but very low branching structure. In spring, it produces a heavenly array of star-like blooms. In summer, its intriguing canopy of layered branches provides shade and beauty. In autumn, it offers spectacular bright red color. Even in winter, this tree has an appeal all its own with bark that resembles a jigsaw puzzle.
- Bloodgood Japanese Maple: 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.
Today we went over a lot of suggestions for choosing the perfect tree for your front yard. Deciding on a tree means you have to know what the main purpose of your tree is… so think about thinks like shade, privacy and aesthetics. You also need to decide 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.
I’d love to hear what tree is in your front yard… please comment below and let me know!
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