How To Choose a Tree for your Garden

With so many different types of trees to choose from, picking the right one for your garden can be pretty intimidating, as it will surely be there for decades.

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With so many different types of trees to choose from, picking the right one for your garden can be pretty intimidating, as it will surely be there for decades.

To choose the right tree for your garden, you first need to consider how much space you have available and how tall you want your tree to grow. Next, you should make sure that the tree will grow well in your local climate and region. Lastly, pick a tree that has the aesthetic/qualities you want.

What many new gardeners often fail to realize is that planting a tree on your property can be a huge commitment. Unlike planting a tree in a forest, which will pretty much take care of itself and not interfere with its surroundings, planting a tree near your property can be quite invasive to the rest of your garden and even your neighborhood in some cases. With that said, you are going to want to carefully consider the kind of tree that you choose for your garden, as some can be quite small with a shorter lifespan, and others can be enormous and be around for centuries. To help you understand this better, we are going to take a look at how to choose a tree for your garden in more detail.

After decades of working as an arborist and nursery manager, I have had an extensive amount of experience handling and maintaining trees. My experience has taught me that the best way to choose a tree for your garden is to select one that will be non-invasive to its surroundings and is in alignment with its local climate.

Table of Contents

Choosing A Tree For Your Garden

You may be surprised to find out that there are over 60,000 different species of trees in the world and thanks to global trade, we have got so many of them available to use to plant in our gardens at home - regardless of geographical location. In fact, the oldest living thing on the planet is a tree - the Great Brittle Stone Pine, which is 5,000 years old! While this may not be the ideal tree for your garden, this should put into perspective just how much of a commitment planting a tree can be.

Choosing the right tree for your garden is something you should put careful consideration into, as this is not like planting a rose brush into your flower bed. Trees stick around for a while, they can take up quite a bit of space, and they can also be a pain to maintain.

Before you go driving down to the nursery to pick the prettiest tree that you think would look good in your garden, you should be aware of the logistics of planting it first. To do this, you should reflect on the physical features of your property and also consider the local environment of your area. If you are considering planting a big tree, you should think about how this is going to affect the rest of your property.

With that being said, planting a tree in your yard is going to add a beautiful touch to your property, which is why you should reflect on exactly what kind of qualities you want your tree to complement your garden with. Let’s dive right into how to choose a tree for your garden.

Size & Space

The most important thing that you want to be aware of when planting a tree, is just how much space it is going to take up. The idea of planting a 100 ft Sequoia Tree probably sounds nice at first, but when you see how much space it ends up taking up in your garden, you may end up having second thoughts. Now, that does not mean that you shouldn’t plant a big tree on your property, it just means that you should be aware of would it would entail.

Large trees can be quite invasive. You should consider how much more work a large tree can be and how much debris can fall off it, which could include everything from mountains of leaves that come falling down in the autumn and potentially huge branches that can crash down on your property, home - or even you.

In addition, large trees give off a lot of shade. This can be great if you are living in a warm climate and want a natural way of keeping your house cooler. However, it can be a problem if you want your property to soak up as much sun as possible. This is especially the case if you have a garden to tend to and need to ensure that your plants can receive enough sunlight.

If a large tree is what you want to plant, you should first and foremost be able to confirm that you have adequate space for it. Some gardeners will advise that you do not plant a tree in your garden that is within a reasonable distance of anything such as walkways and outdoor seating areas. A major reason for this is that you do not want any potentially dangerous debris falling down on people or causing damage to property. While this is a great general way to approach it, you should also keep in mind that you can bend this rule depending on the type of tree that you plant, as some are much less risky than others.

Regardless of the size of the tree that you plant, you should go out into your yard and take measurements of your property and focus on the area(s) that seem the most logical. If you are considering a larger tree, then it goes without saying that you should have more space at your disposal. However, if you want to plant a modest-sized tree or even a dwarf-sized one, then you should have more options available to you and you may not need to be quite as precise with your measurements.

Climate & Region

Once your measurements are in order, you should evaluate the climate of your local region, as this will be a telltale sign of the type of trees that you can and cannot plant in your garden.

If you reside in a part of the country that has cold winters with extreme conditions, then your options are going to be a bit more restricted to your specific climate. Whereas, if you live somewhere that has a contrast to this type of weather and you live somewhere with extreme heat and minimal rainfall, then you will need to plant accordingly.

However, if you live somewhere that has mild winters and relatively balanced summers, then you will find that you have the most ideal climate to plant a larger variety of trees than most people. With that being said, not all hope is lost if you had your heart set on a tree that does not perfectly fit your local area. What you will find is that some trees are much more resilient to adverse conditions than others and are capable of handling both heat and cold. When you consider which tree you want to plant in your garden, you should take a look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

When you pick out a tree for your garden (or plants in general), they will likely have a label on them that places them into an ideal zone(s) on the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Each zone will detail the climate that is better suited for each specific tree that you are looking at and will help indicate what you should plant in your garden. While you can potentially bend the rules of your zone a little bit here and there, you should try to always plant respectfully to your region so that your tree can have a healthy growing process.

Qualities & Aesthetic

After you have taken measurements and confirmed your climate and region, finally, you can begin evaluating different trees to choose from for your garden. This is by far the best part of the process, as you will be able to welcome a tree to your yard - probably for life.

A great place to begin is to do some research online for trees that catch your eye or meet the qualities that you want them to have. However, going down to your local nursery is always a great option, as you are able to get some professional help and guidance on planting your tree and choosing the right one for your property. This can be especially useful if you are having doubts about your local climate zone or the size of your garden.

Next, you should consider exactly what kind of tree will complement your garden. There are so many options for you to choose from, but the choice is yours! Here are some qualities and aesthetics for you to keep in mind:

Deciduous Trees

Deciduous trees are pretty much any trees that lose their leaves during parts of the year. You can easily identify these trees, as they will tend to be barren during the winter, blooming during spring, full with leaves in the summertime, and then they will begin shedding them during the fall.

These trees can be absolutely beautiful and they come in so many different variations. One of the great things about planting a deciduous tree in your garden is that you will have all 4 seasons pleasantly represented in your yard, which will always give you an indication of what time of year it is.

This can be especially delightful when you see your tree start to bud and bloom in the springtime, which will give you an indication that winter is almost over and that warm weather is approaching. Alternatively, some variations of deciduous trees have absolutely marvelous colors during the fall, which is when you can enjoy all of the vibrant scarlet, orange, and red leaves. With that being said, a lot of the deciduous trees (not all) tend to be much more present in regions that are a bit colder.


Just as the name implies, evergreens are trees that stay green all year long and never shed their leaves. Their foliage will stay the same color and they will look lively even in the harshest climates and conditions.

If you are looking for a tree to add to your garden that will always look alive and beautiful, then an evergreen is going to be a perfect match for you. Although, we commonly associate a lot of evergreens with palms and various Mediterranean plants that prefer warm temperatures year-round, there are actually plenty of evergreens out there that love the cold and can handle temperatures that are well below freezing.

With that being said, each evergreen will likely still be much better suited for a specific climate - with some preferring the heat and some the cold. These qualities are what make evergreens such valuable plants for so many regions around the world. Given that they never shed their leaves, they are able to provide some form of protection to people all year long.

Regions that experience colder climates utilize evergreens as a way to protect their property from harsh winds and storms. Whereas regions in the world with hot climates benefit from evergreens by having protection from the sun’s heat. If you are living in an area that has harsh weather conditions, regardless of climate type, you may find that evergreens may just be a very useful resource to have planted in your garden.

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