Pumpkin-spiced lattes, football and beautiful foliage … all these probably conjure delightful thoughts of the fall season. One other tradition you may routinely tackle in the fall is yardwork. For some of you, it may be the dreaded raking of mountains of leaves. For others, it may be the joy of choosing just the right mum to spruce up your patio or backyard. Do you know October – March is prime tree-planting season as well? So, if you have been simmering on the idea for a while, now is the time to start the planning. Flowery and sprawling trees could not only take your curb appeal to the next level, but also serve as a great way to shade your home and therefore lower your air conditioning (A/C) bill in the upcoming springs and summers. We’re always looking for ways to help you keep your A/C bill to a minimum, so we love this as an energy-saving tip. To make sure you’re pointed in the right direction, we’ve tapped local arborist and community tree educator, Kate Bolkin of TreesCharlotte, to “leave” you with expert tree advice, including what to consider when choosing trees, how and where to plant them and even how to get them for as low as free or $10!
Charlotte Mechanical (CM): For the Charlotte metro area, what types of trees do you recommend homeowners plant in their yards?
Kate Bolkin (KB): There are so many kinds of trees that homeowners can choose from, so I would say a good first step is to ask yourself what you want from a yard tree. Are you looking for shade? Screening from neighbors? Spring flowers? Once you decide, you can start looking at trees that fit the bill. Native trees and trees that are adapted to survive in a Zone 7 climate are your best bet. Some of my favorite native yard trees include blackgum, redbuds, serviceberry and red oaks. But whatever you do, stay away from invasive trees such as mimosas or bradford pears.
For shade, you’ll want trees that are large-maturing and that cast a wide canopy spread. Your best bet is going to be in the oak category. Some of the more popular oaks in Charlotte include willow oaks, southern red oaks and white oaks. Elms and yellow poplars are also a good choice. If you don’t quite have the room for a gentle giant like these, you can go with a medium-maturing tree that will also cast some shadow, like maple, black tupelo, or yellowwood.
CM: What considerations do homeowners need to keep in mind when selecting trees for their yards (e.g., soil type, direction of home, etc.)?
KB: The main considerations a homeowner should keep in mind are sunlight availability, soil quality, and mature size of the tree as it relates to what is around it. Different trees have different sunlight and soil requirements, so be sure to do your research before planting. For example, we receive quite a few calls about flowering dogwoods (a tree that needs partial shade) that suffered leaf scorch because they were incorrectly planted in full sun. We also find that some folks have a hard time visualizing the mature size of their young tree and will plant it in a spot that cannot sustain its full size. It would be unwise, say, to plant a yellow poplar (a tree that will be 50+ feet tall) under power lines. Instead, choose a redbud or another small-maturing tree for that spot.
CM: What is a good process for determining where and how many trees to plant?
KB: In terms of where, it’s helpful to think about what you’d like to get from your tree. If you’re looking for a large shade tree to provide cooling, planting on the west and northwest side of the home will block that late afternoon sun. Planting trees along driveways can keep your car from baking in the summer sun and planting flowering trees near patios will liven up the look of your yard. You can plant as many trees as you’d like in your space so long as you keep an appropriate distance between them and other surrounding objects. We use the 40-30-20 rule-- large trees should be planted 40 feet apart, medium at 30 feet apart, and small at 20 feet apart. And of course, be sure to call 811 to get underground utilities marked before you plant, so you don’t hit anything while digging. We have a blog on our website titled Homeowners’ Guide to Tree Placement that goes over all this information. Check it out!
For now, here is this super simple chart that anyone can use regarding planting proximity to the home.
CM: Where do you suggest that homeowners purchase trees and what is the average cost?
KB: Of course, I have to recommend that everyone gets trees from TreeCharlotte! We have several Tree Giveaway events during the planting season (October-March) that are open to all Charlotte residents. We do our Tree Giveaways during these months to ensure they have the best chance of survival. If you do choose to get a tree elsewhere, we recommend waiting until fall to make your purchase and plant.
The trees that TreesCharlotte offers are either free or $10 each depending on where you live, which is much less than the cost of trees at other stores, which range anywhere from about $20 to hundreds depending on the type and size. TreesCharlotte offers all kinds of trees from large-maturing shade trees to evergreens to small-maturing flowering trees. They come in seven-gallon containers and are 5-10 feet all at first. All our trees are on the city’s approved tree species list, so you know that you’re getting a tree that can thrive in our area and is safe for the environment.
CM: One piece of tree advice or fun tree fact that isn’t addressed above. Go!
KB: TreesCharlotte is part of a really awesome project called the Treasure Trees program that honors and celebrates Charlotte’s largest and most historic trees. You can go to the Treasure Trees page through our website to check them out and even visit the ones that are still standing! It’s a great way to explore Charlotte from a unique lens and appreciate the large, majestic trees we have in Queen City. We are also accepting applications for new Treasure Trees, so if you have a tree that you think is impressive, submit it for review today. It may get Treasure Tree status!