Alternative Choices: Fabulous Trees to Consider

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The first item in the tree-planning process is, of course, selection. Many people select trees based only on their familiarity with a particular tree, neglecting to research other similar trees which may have better growth habits, higher pest resistance, greater hardiness or better landscape qualities.

I would like to introduce alternatives to consider in place of the familiar trees which may be over-planted in our area. 

A good example is the silver maple, which is widely planted mostly because of its extremely fast growth rate. Unfortunately, with fast growth rate comes weak wood which will often break in wind, ice and snow storms. Other problems are vigorous, shallow roots which can buckle sidewalks, and a long list of disease and insect pests.

If you appreciate the beauty of a maple, give the red maple, Acer rubrum, (pictured at left) a try. Although the growth rate doesn’t match the silver maple, the red maple is considered medium to fast growing, and is much preferable because of cleaner foliage, stronger wood and better for color.

Another familiar and popular tree in the home landscape is the pin oak. Its appeal is mostly related to its strongly pyramidal, formal shape, but it is not without its problems. Pin oaks are very intolerant of high pH soils. Iron chlorosis, or yellowing of the leaves, can be a disastrous problem. Also, since pin oaks hold their leaves during much of the winter, it seems like you can never finish cleaning up your lawn if there are pin oaks in the area.

If pin oaks appeal to you, but you don’t want to worry about correcting soil pH, try the northern red oak, Quercus rubra(pictured at top). Although not quite as strongly pyramidal as the pin oak, red oaks are usually nicely symmetrical, especially when mature. 

Red oaks are one the fastest growing of the oaks and are considered by some to be the most valuable landscape oak available. It transplants readily and is basically free of insect and disease problems. The large denser leaves and broader crown make red oak a much better shade tree than the pin oak.

Another oak which is loved by many people, myself included, is the bur oak. This huge tree is one of our most majestic trees, but its use is tempered for a couple of reasons. One is its notoriously slow growth rate and another is its mature size. It simply just doesn’t fit anywhere.

If you like bur oak and want something similar, but maybe a little faster, try swamp white oak. As its name implies, it prefers moist bottom lands but also has excellent drought resistance. Both the shape of the tree and its leaves are similar with the two trees. Besides the growth rate, another important difference is that swamp white oaks are much easier to transplant than bur oaks.

A tree which has become very popular, and is at the point being overplanted in this area, is the Bradford pear, a beautiful spring-flowering, medium-sized tree. 

There are basically two problems with the ‘Bradford’ pear. The most serious one in northern Nebraska is its winter hardiness. It is definitely more of a southern tree and does not harden off soon enough in preparation for our Nebraska winters. The other problem is its tight branch crotches, which many times result in severe splitting especially on older trees.

If you like the ‘Bradford’ pear, but not its problems, give Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’ or ‘Chanticleer’ pears, pictured at right, a try. ‘Aristocrat’ has wider branch angles, resulting in less splitting. The ‘Chanticleer’ hardens earlier in the fall, making it less susceptible to early freezes.

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