Selecting Trees for Your Landscape

Selecting a tree that will survive and flourish isn’t always as easy as a trip to the garden center. We often select a tree for its aesthetic attributes such as showy spring flowers, fall color, or unique leaf or bark without even looking at the site and conditions it will have to grow in. Before you get your heart set on a certain tree for your yard, there are several things you need to look at and think about.

  • Evaluate the above and below ground growing space. If high voltage electric lines exist overhead, select a tree species that will mature at 25-30 feet, such as crabapple, tree lilac, hedge maple, or ornamental cherry, to name a few.
  • Examine the soil texture, pH, drainage and compaction levels. If the soils are a heavy clay or drain slowly, that will limit species selection because many trees can not survive in these soils. Soil pH is a measure of acidity and 7.0 or greater will not grow healthy oaks and red maples.
  • If the tree will be planted along a road or sidewalk, select a species that will tolerate deicing salts.
  • Avoid selecting trees that have poor branch structure and are prone to branch breakage such as ‘Bradford’ Callery Pear, Willow, Poplar, Siberian Elm, or Silver Maple. Do not plant these close to homes or structures.
  • Avoid planting invasive species that will quickly take over a site and displace native plants, degrading habitat for native insects, birds and animals.
  • Avoid some species that are currently under stress and declining in our landscapes, due to introduced insects and diseases.

The best success will come from matching the planting site limitations with a tree that will tolerate those conditions. The following websites will provide you more in-depth information about analyzing your site conditions and selecting a tree species that will flourish in that site.

Penn State Tree Selection Publications

Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute

Cornell Urban Tree Selection Publication

Northern Trees tree selection website.

Urban Tree and Shrub Selection

University of Connetticut Plant Database

USDA Plant Database

Ohio State University Plant Database


Arbor Day Foundation Tree Guide

Tree Selection Factsheet

Energy Conservation Planting Strategies

Poisonous Plants Database.

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