Correct Tree Selection: What to look out for?

Transforming your garden with a beautiful tree, or better yet, trees, is an exciting experience capable of bringing beauty, harmony and freshness to your surroundings.

However, choosing the right tree can seem challenging, taking into account both your aesthetic preferences and the practical requirements of your space, such as climate conditions, soil, lighting, tree dimensions and the care it needs. In this short article, we will present the basic steps that will help you make the ideal choice, avoiding unpleasant surprises.

1. Climate and Development Conditions

Each tree species has its own ideal growing conditions. Thus, we have to take into account factors such as temperature, rainfall and air intensity.

Consider the climate of your area and select trees that thrive in similar conditions. It is also advisable to avoid particularly exotic trees or trees from northern regions in countries such as Greece, as they are unlikely to thrive and if they do, they will require more care and money. In fact, a nice idea is to go for a walk in the neighborhood where you want to place the trees and see what thrives and what ‘struggles’.

For example, if you live in an area with a hot and dry climate, trees such as olive, carob, pomegranate, fig or mulberry trees that can withstand drought are ideal. On the other hand, in areas with cold temperatures, ideal trees are fir, yew, willow, maple, magnolia, yew or ornamental plum (-28 oC), (up to -18 °C), the honeysuckle (up to -13 °C), the green-red photinia, and of the fruit trees the chestnut, cherry, apple, pear, almond and, of course, the olive. In mountainous areas we prefer cold-resistant olive varieties.

On the other hand, in areas with high rainfall, you can choose trees such as oak, sycamore or poplar, which like wet conditions.

The wind factor, which is often not taken seriously in tree selection, plays an important role, especially if you are in places where there are strong winds. A strong north wind or a wind chill has the ability to knock down flowers or even dry out sensitive tree species.

In these situations, we choose trees and shrubs with strong root systems, such as olive, cypress, viburnum, holly, mulberry, carob, Leyland, Thuja, goldcrest and photinia. These species naturally make ideal choices for hedges, creating dense and compact plantings, effectively reducing noise, wind and unwanted views.

2. Soil

The soil structure (e.g. sandy, clay) plays a decisive role in the growth of trees.

Sandy soil is defined as soil containing more than 70% sand and less than 15% clay. These soils are also called light soils due to the predominance of sand properties, i.e. fast drainage and very good aeration. They are particularly easy to cultivate and, because of their low water retention, watering must be more frequent. Fertilization should also be given frequently and in small doses. In short, if we are thinking of planting a tree in our garden that likes a lot of water, but our soil is particularly sandy, it would be better to plant a more drought-resistant tree.

Conversely, clay or otherwise heavy soils have high water retention and therefore low drainage, poor aeration and usually higher levels of organic matter and nutrients. As far as operations are concerned, these are more demanding.

For example, sandy soils are suitable for trees such as pine, acacia, apricot, apricot, lemon, peach and fig opuntia, while clay soils are ideal for trees such as oak, mulberry, apple, lilac and walnut.

However, most trees, including the olive, prefer deep, fertile soils with good drainage. These are soils of medium composition that retain water and nutrients on the one hand and have good aeration and drainage on the other.

In addition to the structure, another equally important factor in the selection of a suitable tree is the pH of the soil. The pH in turn determines how acidic or how alkaline (basic) a soil is, and is measured on a scale of numbers from 0 to 14, with the number 7 denoting neutral soil. Most trees and plants, of course, prefer acidity conditions of 5.5 to 8.

Of course, like everything in nature, there are many factors that can influence soil acidity, such as the type of bedrock, the amount of rainfall, the decomposition of organic matter and the use of fertilizers. In future articles we will discuss these factors, and for tips with homemade materials that will show us whether we have acidic or basic soil.

Acidic is the soil whose value ranges from 0 to 6.9. Some examples of trees that thrive in acid soils are the lime tree (4,5-6), the liquidambar (4,5-7), the apple tree (5-6,5), the chestnut tree (5-6), the banana tree (5,5-6,5), the lagerstroemia (5,5-7), and the orange tree (5,5-7,5).


In relatively neutral soils where most species thrive, typical examples of trees are olive (5.5-8), mulberry (6.5-7.5), magnolia (6.5-7.5), western plane (6.5-7.5), cypress (6.5-7.5), carob (6.5-7.5), fig (6.5-7.5), Washingtonia palm (6. 5-7.5), oak (6,5-7,5), judas tree (6,5-7,5) and American plum (6,5-7,5).

Conversely, values of 7.1 and above indicate alkaline soil, with pomegranate (7.1-8) and goji berry (7.1-8) being the most typical.

Finally, soil salinity should be taken into account in tree selection. A soil is considered to have high salinity when it has an electrical conductivity (EC) above 4 dS/m. Trees that can withstand saline soils are Washingtonia palm, acacia, weeping willow, honey willow, mulberry, fig, carob, pine and of course, alder and olive trees that can withstand over 8 dS/m.

3. Lighting availability

Some trees prefer plenty of sunlight, while others thrive in semi-shade or even shade.

Evaluate how much sunlight your trees will receive where they will be placed and choose a species that suits the lighting conditions.

Most trees need plenty of light, such as pomegranate, fig, carob, olive, mulberry, stunted elm and prow. However, there are others that thrive in low-light conditions, such as the acacia rose, sweet acacia, oak, magnolia, maple and tilia, while others such as the honey tree can withstand dark conditions.

4. Dimensions

Not all trees are the same in terms of their dimensions (height, width, root size).

As far as height is concerned, there are trees that reach up to 25 metres in height, such as the plane tree, while others are shorter, such as the stump tree, which reaches up to 5 metres.

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Many other trees are also very wide, such as the magnolia, which can reach a height of 15 m, the lime tree, which can reach a height of 10 m, but also the mulberry tree, the catawba, the plane tree, the olive tree and the carob tree, something that makes them great for shade. Of course, to the shade of these can be added hanging swings, outdoor seating sets, lamps and much more making our garden the perfect place for gatherings.

Finally, we must not forget the factor of a tree’s roots, since the dimensions of a tree also concern the underground part, in addition to the above-ground part (trunk, branches, leaves).  There are quite a few trees whose surface roots can cause damage to pavements, walls or pipes, if planted too close to them.

Typical examples are eucalyptus, poplar, Persian silk tree and plane trees. Alternatively, excellent choices are the sycamore, ornamental mulberry, carob and maple.

So always consider the breadth and depth of the roots of the tree of interest.

5. Care requirements

Every tree has different requirements in watering, fertilizing and pruning, which translates into time and care if the experts are not available for it.

For example, if you don’t have much time, drought-resistant trees with low fertilization requirements that thrive even in very poor soils, such as olive, palm and carob trees, are ideal.

Conversely, if you are a gardening enthusiast and want a tree that requires more intensive care, you can choose trees such as lemon, apricot and walnut that need regular watering, fertilizing, pruning and protection from severe cold.

6. Aesthetics

In addition to your practical needs, consider your utilitarian and aesthetic preferences.

Do you want ornamental or fruit trees? The former will give you lush shade and color with their gorgeous blooms, while the latter will reward your care with delicious fruit.

Next question, an evergreen or deciduous tree? An evergreen tree, gives a wonderful sight all year round, keeping its leaves green. Thus, it manages to protect our building from the cold and winds in winter days, while if we are bothered by fallen autumn leaves because we have a swimming pool, for example, it is the right choice.

Similarly, deciduous trees, with the green, yellow, orange and red color variations of their leaves, make a garden enchanting. Moreover, they manage to allow the sun’s rays to warm a building in winter, but also to ward them off in summer. Finally, fallen leaves have the advantage of being a natural fertilizer for the soil, preparing it for the demanding spring and summer conditions.

Of course, we could not fail to point out the encouragement of landscape architects, who advise the harmonious coexistence of evergreens and deciduous trees in a green landscape. The alternation of colors, shapes and textures creates intense interest and lasting beauty.


In conclusion

Choosing the right tree for your garden is an important decision that can affect the beauty, functionality and value of the entire property.

By following the steps, we have outlined and taking into account your own needs and preferences, you can make the ideal choice and enjoy the benefits of a beautiful garden that will not only help improve your mental health and air quality, but also increase the value of your property.