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Can I plant trees in my garden? Here's what you need to know about trees.

Updated: May 15

As a landscape designer, I often encounter clients who are hesitant to incorporate trees into their garden design. While trees offer numerous benefits, ranging from providing shade to enhancing the aesthetic appeal of your outdoor space, it's understandable that concerns may arise. However, with some extra knowledge about trees and maintenance, these worries can be addressed effectively. Let's explore some common concerns and practical solutions to help you embrace the beauty and benefits of trees in your garden.

 

Worried about Mess/Debris


One of the primary concerns people have about planting trees is the potential mess and debris they may create.


However, with thoughtful tree selection and placement, you can minimize this issue.

Avoid planting trees in the middle of the lawn and incorporate them inside garden beds instead. This way most of the “mess” (leaves, flowers, fruits dropping) will fall inside the gardens and you won’t have to worry about cleaning them up. They can stay there and serve as mulch, nourishing the plants underneath! You can also invest in a good battery-powered leaf blower to quickly clean up the leaves that find their way to your lawn/driveway…


Also make sure not to plant tall trees too close to the house so that leaves don’t drop directly in your gutters, or branches damage your roof. See further down for information on how far to plant trees from your house.


Lastly, remember that while it's true that trees shed leaves and produce flowers and fruits, these natural processes contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem. Embrace the seasonal changes, enjoy watching the wildlife that comes to your trees, and consider using fallen leaves for mulch or composting to enrich your garden soil.

Check out this blog post by Treelands for more info on using leaves: click here 


 

Concerns about the damage trees could cause


Tree roots can pose a threat to underground infrastructure, such as sewer lines and drainpipes, as they seek out sources of water and nutrients. Additionally, trees planted too close to a house can potentially compromise the foundation over time, if their roots extend beneath the building. Trees can also block sunlight or create shaded areas that promote moisture buildup. Planting your larger trees on the south side of the property mitigates this last issue. Click here for more facts about trees and shade.



Selecting tree species with non-invasive root systems, planting trees at a safe distance from structures, and using root barriers can minimize the likelihood of damage while still enjoying the many benefits that trees bring.
As a general rule, large trees should be planted at least 6 to 9 meters away from the house, or twice the height of the tree away from the house.

Be aware the size of trees noted on nursery tags is often the 5–10-year height, but trees will keep growing (slowly) for many years after that.


But here are a few smaller, non-invasive trees which are safe to plant closer to a house (1.5-3 meters):

Lagerstroemia indica - Crepe Myrtles

Sophora microphylla  - Kowhai tree

Amelanchier canadensis – Canadian Serviceberry

Cercis canadensis – Eastern Redbud

Cornus kousa – Flowering Dogwood

Acer palmatum - Japanese Maple

Eriobotrya japonica – Loquat

Cyathea medullaris/dealbata (Mamaku and Ponga) – Tree ferns

Pseudopanax ferox – Lancewood

Topiary trees that are regularly trimmed to keep to a certain size and shape (“Lollipop” trees, “Cloud-Shaped” trees…)


Cloud Shaped Tree
Lagerstroemia indica



If you want to plant one of these trees close to your house but are still worried, you can also use a root barrier to direct the roots away from what you need them to avoid.


Root barrier graph

Some common trees that should not be planted anywhere close to a house or underground services (but fine everywhere else):

Liquidambar styraciflua - Sweet Gum

Albizia julibrissin - Silk Tree

Jacaranda mimosifolia - Jacaranda

Eucalyptus sp. – Gum tree

Magnolia grandiflora – Southern Magnolia

Robinia pseudoacacia – Black Locust

 

Lack of Knowledge on Pruning and Maintenance


Tree in french countryside

Many people feel uncertain about how to properly prune and maintain trees to keep them healthy and attractive and that stops them from planting any. Here are a few notes on pruning.


Tree pruning can be done for different reasons: reduce the size of the tree, promote flowering and fruiting, to allow more sunlight and air movement, for a desired shape, and for tree health. I’m only going to talk about the one which must be done which is for health.


Pruning for plant health focuses on removing dead, dying and diseased branches, branches that rub together, so the entire tree continues to grow in a healthy way. Opening up the canopy to let light and air filter throughout the entire tree also allows for increased foliage while decreasing the risk of disease.












What to do:

Notice any branches that are dead, diseased, damaged or that are rubbing against each other. If small enough to cut with a secateur or loppers, keep in mind that your cuts are going to encourage new growth. With that in mind, cut limbs 5mm above a bud that faces the outside of the plant. This will be the direction of the new growth. Keep your cuts at a 45-degree angle to prevent water damage and disease.


For thicker branches: Most tree branches that are cut back to the trunk or a main branch will require three cuts to prevent damage to the bark. The first two cuts remove the weight from the tree branch, and the final cut is designed for the best callus growth (the callus will form where the branch was cut).


1st cut: Travel approximately 50cm up the underside of the branch you are removing. This is the perfect location for your first cut. Cut up about halfway through the branch.

2nd cut: Move to the top side of the branch. Choose a location 3cm further out from your first cut. Carefully cut down until the branch breaks free.

3rd cut: Find the branch collar on your trunk. This is the stem tissue around the base of the branch. With most trees, you'll see a slight swelling and rougher bark in this area. You want to make your final cut just to the outside of this collar, but without leaving a stub. Make a complete cut with a 45-degree angle kicking out from the base of the tree. This prevents water damage and encourages the quick formation of the callus.


Tree pruning guide

For pruning advice specific to fruit trees, check out these pages:



Go Eco and Tree Crops Waikato sometimes do workshops on fruit tree pruning.


Pruning trees may seem like a large project—and it can be. I recommend leaving large, established shade trees to qualified arborists and tree care professionals. They have the appropriate equipment and training to remove large branches safely. Ornamental and fruit trees are the perfect place to start learning how to prune a tree. Most are easily accessible and require simple tools.


When and how often should you prune?


French country garden

A proactive homeowner begins pruning as soon as a tree is planted. Diseased, dead and broken branches should be removed right away. Pruning for shape (if desired) isn't necessary until the first winter after planting. Pruning a tree a little each year creates a strong and beautiful tree from the very beginning.


Initial Inspection: Shortly after planting, it's essential to inspect the tree for any damaged, broken, or diseased branches. These should be pruned immediately to promote healthy growth and prevent potential problems.


Within the First Year: Typically, newly planted trees require minimal pruning within the first year. However, if there are any structural issues or competing branches, corrective pruning may be necessary during this time. Focus on shaping the tree's structure and removing any growth that may hinder its development.


Subsequent Pruning: 

Young Trees (1-5 Years): During the first few years after planting, young trees may require yearly pruning to establish their desired shape and structure. This pruning is primarily aimed at training the tree's growth, removing any crossing or rubbing branches, and maintaining a strong central leader or main trunk.

Mature Trees (5+ Years): Once trees reach maturity, their pruning needs may vary depending on their growth habits and health. Regular inspections should be conducted to identify and address any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. Additionally, routine maintenance pruning may be required to thin the canopy, improve airflow, and reduce the risk of storm damage.


Best time of year to prune:

A general timetable for maintenance pruning is:

Early spring: summer-blooming trees

Early summer: evergreen trees, hedges, early-spring blooming shrubs

Late summer: maples, birches

Late winter: mature fruit trees, young fruit trees (although go for late, late winter), and everything else.


 

Maintenance Costs


The perceived cost of maintaining trees can deter some individuals from planting them in their garden. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh the maintenance expenses. To minimize costs, consider selecting low-maintenance tree species that are well-suited to your climate and soil conditions. Investing in proper pruning tools and learning basic tree care techniques can also help you save money on professional maintenance services.


Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer to “how much does it cost to get a professional to prune my tree”, but here’s an article with some information from my trusted colleagues at Treelands: click here
Japanese Maple Zen courtyard

 

Trees are worth it!


French country garden in shade of mature trees

Appreciate the Benefits: Trees provide numerous benefits to our environment and communities. They improve air quality, reduce energy costs by providing shade and windbreaks, mitigate urban heat island effects, provide habitat for wildlife, and enhance the overall beauty and value of our surroundings.


While leaf drop is a natural part of a tree's life cycle, the benefits they provide far outweigh any inconvenience caused by fallen leaves, and the occasional necessary pruning.


Planting a tree in your garden can be your small gesture towards mitigating the effects of climate change!






Old french house and tree

Embrace the Seasonal Cycle: Leaf drop is a natural process that occurs in deciduous trees as they prepare for winter dormancy. Rather than viewing it as a burden, embrace the seasonal changes and appreciate the beauty of autumn foliage. Take advantage of the opportunity to engage in the meditating benefits of leaf raking or the joy of leaf pile jumping with your kids. In Spring, be rewarded with lovely flowers, and in Summer, enjoy the relief of the nice cool shade they provide!


Choose Low-Maintenance Species: If you really don’t want to deal with leaf drop, at least consider planting evergreen trees. They will still shed some leaves, but not as much.

Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’

Citrus trees (Lemon, Lime, Orange, Grapefruit, Mandarin…)

Bay tree

Bottlebrush trees

Tree ferns

Lancewoods


They add value to your property:

If for nothing else, consider planting a tree as it will add value to your property: “Numerous studies show that homes with trees have anywhere from 3.5% to 15% more value than those without.”

 

Incorporating trees into your garden can transform your outdoor space and enrich your life in countless ways. By addressing common concerns and implementing practical solutions, you can enjoy the beauty and benefits of trees while minimizing potential drawbacks. Embrace the greenery, and let nature thrive in your garden for generations to come.


For all your tree, environmental and garden work needs in the Waikato, I recommend Treelands, a family owned business with an environmental approach to arboriculture and great care for sustainability and community. https://www.treelands.co.nz They have helped me make sure the information in this blog post is correct, as I am not a tree expert like them!


Aren’t those spaces a lot more impactful, beautiful and inviting with a tree than without?

































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