Right Tree, Right Place

Selecting the Right Tree for the Right Place


Selecting a tree to plant involves several considerations beyond their aesthetics. Careful consideration of function, land, and personal preferences help to ensure that the tree is not only pleasing to us, but will also thrive in its location and live long to benefit the environment, including land, wildlife, and people. Furthermore, selecting the right tree for the right place, can reduce unwanted maintenance issues, lower total expenses, and increase longevity.

Use the descriptions below to consider what best matches your situation. When researching or shopping for your tree, look for the species of tree that meets many or most of the requirements you desire and is appropriate to the limitations presented.

It’s important to note that saving mature trees from removal should be considered first. The benefits of existing and mature trees are tremendously important and cannot be immediately replaced by replanting. Lastly, although many new trees are planted to be a specimen tree, or a featured tree that is planted singularly in the landscape, trees planted in groups have been shown to perform better for environmental impact, tree health, and survival from challenging weather incidents.


Quercus shumardii full size tree



Think about the purpose of the tree. We’ll discuss preferences later, but for now, let’s think about practical matters. A tree can serve multiple purposes, but consider these possible benefits that the tree could provide and weigh which function is most important (or most feasible).

  • Shade: Strategically sited trees can help save thousands per year in utility costs during hot and cold months. Plant trees to the south and west of structures to block solar radiation in the Spring and Summer. In the winter, deciduous trees defoliate, encouraging solar gain to reduce heating costs. These tactics are known as passive solar design.[AB1] reduce
  • Screening: Trees, especially evergreens can screen structures from neighbors, winter winds and noise pollution. Passive solar design should be considered when citing evergreen screens. As the sun travels along the Southern sky, evergreen screen trees should be limited primarily to the North of structures. Certain deciduous trees such as beech (F. grandifolia) and white oak (Q. alba) can provide year-round screening through a characteristic known as marcescence, wherein a tree holds dormant leaves throughout the winter.
  • Wildlife/ Environmental Support: In addition to shade and clean air and water, trees offer numerous other benefits including wildlife habitat and food sources, pollinator support (primarily natives), and stormwater flood control. At Trees Atlanta, we encourage the selection of native trees whenever possible. Native trees, defined as being traced to the Piedmont region prior to European settlement) have a unique symbiotic relationship with native wildlife. This relationship is quintessential in keeping our food system intact (one out of three bites depends on a pollinator).
  • Beauty: After limiting factors [AB2] have been determined, creativity and aesthetics can be considered. Research and design can seem cumbersome, but can inevitably avoid mistakes and regret. Trees can blend with an environment to offer a sense of place or stand out with stark contract. Hybrids and cultivars are specifically propagated to alter a species’ characteristics such as appearance (foliage, seasonal color, flower duration and color, and form), durability, and other potentially beneficial selection factors. [AB3]
    Near water, water-prone areas: riparian
  • Food: fruit and nuts, perennial food plant


Flowering dogwood full size tree


Limiting Factors (in relative order of importance):
  • Where will the tree be planted? As a tree’s roots extend upwards of 2.5x the width of the canopy/ drip zone, the location in which a tree is planted is the most constraining factor. While native shade trees provide the most categorical benefits, they are not appropriate in small growth space or within 20’ of structures.
  • Are there nearby utilities? To avoid outages and utility pruning, overstory trees should not be sited within 25’ of overhead power lines. Trees do not generally interfere with telecommunications lines (rubber coated), thus can be planted beneath them. No trees should be planted within 5’ of water, fiber, or gas lines. 811 generally locate utilities within 3-5 days, avoiding mistakes and unnecessary repair expenses.
  • Might trees be detrimental to certain areas? Improper tree selection can create burdensome and often dangerous situations in urban areas. Pedestrian and vehicular sightlines require careful consideration so be sure that trees are at least 20’ from road intersections. Additionally, trees that are full-to-ground should be avoided, unless they are sited in greenspace or open lawn.


Published August 6, 2020

Written by Alex Beasley