Selecting trees

Author(s): Kyle Martens
Various types of trees in a greenhouse

When properly cared for trees can provide benefits for generations, so deciding which tree to plant takes careful consideration.


 When you begin thinking about planting a tree, ask yourself the following questions

  • Why am I planting the tree(s)?
  • What type of tree or shrub do I want to plant?
  • What are the characteristics of the planting site?
  • What is the condition of the soil in the planting site?
  • How much time am I willing to spend maintaining the tree(s)?

Answering these questions will guide you as you search for the right tree.

Will the tree be part of a windbreak or other conservation planting? Will it produce fruit, nuts or other useful products? Will it be an ornamental? Will it be planted to provide shade on sunny afternoons? Chances are, the tree will provide multiple functions.

Form & Size

Trees grow in seven basic forms: rounded, oval, pyramidal, spreading, ascending, weeping and columnar. Pay close attention to these when selecting a tree for your landscape. If a tree will be planted close to a building, a tree that grows in a columnar form will be more appropriate than one with a widely spreading canopy.

A tree's size is also an important consideration. Trees that grow to great heights should not be planted near the eaves of buildings or under power lines.


Because trees grow both above and below ground, they need room for both their canopies and root systems. Always consider the tree's natural width and height and give it enough space from the start. Planting trees too close to sidewalks or buildings may damage the tree and the building or sidewalk. As the tree grows, its powerful roots may cause the sidewalk to buckle and crack. Trees planted too close to buildings may have restricted root growth due to foundations

Site Characteristics

There are several site characteristics to consider when you are selecting a tree:

  • Soil quality has a major impact on tree health. Soil with poor drainage can submerge and suffocate roots. Dense, compacted soil will restrict root growth and limit the extent of the root system, often causing the tree to be susceptible to short droughts. Most Nebraska soils are quite fertile and do not require fertilization for trees, especially newly planted trees or those surrounded by fertilized lawn areas. If you suspect the soil in your area is poor quality, contact your local extension forester for more information about soil testing and steps that can be taken to improve soil quality.
  • Most trees require full sunlight for proper growth, but many species will grow in partial or even dense shade. Determine how much sun your planting site receives daily before selecting a particular tree species.
  • Wind can dry soil and cause erosion. High winds during storms can damage tree branches and even uproot newly planted trees. Newly planted trees should only be staked in areas where they are exposed to high winds and only until their root systems are established. Be sure to remove the staking after a year.

Plant Hardiness Zones

plant hardiness zones in Nebraska
The term " hardiness " refers to a tree's ability to survive in a certain winter climate
. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided the United States into hardiness zones. When you select a tree, determine which hardiness zone you live in and choose a species that is adapted to that zone.