There are countless good reasons to plant trees on your property and/or in your planting strip, which is why Grit City Trees, Tacoma’s street tree program, offers free trees to eligible Tacoma residents. As explained at the Tacoma Urban Forestry website City of Tacoma – Grit City Tree, trees improve human health by capturing and reducing air pollutants, reducing temperatures on sweltering summer days, and counteracting the environmental stresses associated with living in an urban environment.
Along with lowering your energy bills and reducing your reliance on expensive-to-run air-conditioning units, some say that properly sited trees COULD also increase your home’s value. According to the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org), mature trees can increase your home’s value by up to fifteen percent. The claim is a bit hard to prove. Realtors and appraisers don’t generally factor trees into an analysis of value, but it seems logical that our overall impression, and that of buyers, is enhanced by beautifully landscaped grounds, which DOES translate into more value.
And while your home values increase, your health care costs decrease. Numerous studies show that merely enjoying trees in your immediate surroundings can lower your blood pressure and muscle tension.
But what kind of trees are best suited to an urban environment? And which ones offer universal appeal? As any realtor will tell you, often the first thing a new buyer does after taking possession of a home is remove unwanted trees. What follows is a quick primer on how to choose a tree or trees that will add value to your home even after you sell it.
Plan for the future.
Audra McCafferty, an expert at GardenSphere GardenSphere in the Proctor District, points out that trees can block sound, offer shade, and ensure privacy. But when home owners plant trees, they sometimes fail to consider the future size of the specimen once it reaches maturity. The result? Over time, that beautiful blue spruce begins to crowd your home, threaten a powerline, or encroach on your neighbor’s fence. So give that tree room to flourish and grow unencumbered.
“Trees in a planting strip are almost always a good thing,” Audra says. “They provide a natural border and make your house an oasis.”
Remember, too, that trees grow underground. Don’t plant willows, poplars, or others trees with invasive or sprawling roots, lest those roots choke your sewer line, lift the sidewalk, or crack your home’s foundation.
Not every tree adds value to your home. Big evergreens like Douglas firs and red cedars, although indigenous to Puget Sound, typically outgrow their surroundings when planted on city lots. Eventually, they become an albatross for you or the next home owner. And by the time a big evergreen tree is fifty feet tall, it’s expensive and sometimes even dangerous to remove.
“People tend to be afraid of trees that they perceive are going to be very large,” Audra explains. “Even a thirty-foot tree people tend to shy away from. Somewhere between fifteen and thirty feet would be considered a standard tree. Plant a smaller tree that won’t take over. People love a flowering tree, and they love a fall color tree.”
Flowering plum and cherry trees, harbingers of spring, are popular and grow well in Tacoma. Other blooming trees that offer universal appeal are dogwoods, magnolias, and stewartias. Maples, particularly Japanese varieties, often produce brilliant fall displays.
Pick a deciduous tree.
As mentioned above, many evergreen trees eventually outgrow their surroundings. Deciduous trees, on the other hand, tend to be smaller, especially the ornamental varieties. Along with offering year-round interest, from spring flowers to fall color, they provide shade in the summer when you need it but let the sun through in the winter, when days are short and sunlight is scarce.
If you’re determined to plant an evergreen tree, consider planting something like an Italian cypress, which grows up but not out and can thrive in a tight space. Or plant a southern magnolia, which never loses its lush green leaves and produces huge fragrant blooms in the summer. Some small pine varieties can also do well in an urban garden and, like an Italian cypress, typically require little to no summer irrigation.
Don’t plant a tree that looks unhealthy or is in distress. It won’t get off to a good start and will likely suffer in the future, potentially spreading disease to other trees or bushes in your yard. Don’t plant a tree that is wildly out of character in the Northwest. Palm trees look great in Southern California, not Tacoma. And don’t plant a tree or hedge that invites controversy.
“People have a love/hate relationship with arborvitae,” Audra says of the columnar evergreen that some homeowners plant as a hedge. “But people seem to like an ornamental tree as long as it doesn’t drop fruit. At the store, we’ve gotten lots of reactions to trees over the years. No one ever comes in and says, ‘We have this horrible dogwood we’re going to cut down.’ There are certain trees that everyone seems to like.”
5. Educate Yourself
Every tree prefers a certain environment. Some can’t take southern exposure or too much heat, while others struggle in the shade. Some require a bit of coddling, whether that means summer watering or a thick layer of mulch. Others, meanwhile, seem to thrive on neglect. Before you buy a tree, make sure you educate yourself on its needs.
Thinking of pruning your beloved tree? Do a bit of research first. Some trees are best pruned in winter, while others respond well to a spring or fall pruning. No tree should be topped, which will deform your tree forever. Leave the leader or handful of leaders unmolested and focus instead on shaping the rest of the tree so that, as it grows taller, passersby can walk beneath it. Remove suckers from the trunk and surrounding roots if any appear, and gradually limb up the tree over time. Or leave it alone if it’s a tidy tree and growing away from foot traffic.
In the end, remember that adding a tree to your landscape means adding value to your home, whether environmental, aesthetic, or financial. Interestingly, when it comes to the latter, a tree’s value to a home varies depending on the home’s location. According to Kathleen Wolf, a social scientist at the University of Washington, a tree is more valuable in a wealthy neighborhood than in a less affluent one https://www.naturewithin.info/Policy/Hedonics.pdf. Indeed, a tree planted in an up-and-coming neighborhood might add only three percent to the home’s value over time, while a tree planted in a well-established community can add up to fifteen percent. So if you want to transform the value of not only your home but your neighborhood, organize a tree-planting party with your neighbors!
Of course, a tree’s value isn’t dependent solely on its monetary benefits. No matter where you live, a tree provides advantages: shade, privacy, beauty, clean air, and less stress. All you have to do is plant and nurture it.