What is a ‘tree’ to the general Minnesota  public?   

Most people would not think of defining it, answering something like “a woody perennial plant usually of fewer than five upright stems”. 

If asked, most people will answer, “an elm”…..or “a maple” or ‘oak’…..not thinking that a White Pine and Colorado Spruce are also trees.    So is a redbud and a pagoda dogwood, and even a winged euonymus, which is usually sold as a shrub at your local nursery.

The golden chamaecyparis, now becoming popular at the local Twin Cities nurseries are sold as shrubs, but in reality are trees.   The same is true of  global techny arborvitaes.   If you don’t believe me, never prune these ‘shrubs’ and discover their natural size  for yourself.

Most Oaks, Maples, even Ash and  the  Elm are huge trees in our state but become punier as  reliable annual rainfall declines.

Among the most common mistakes made when Minnesotans landscape their home grounds is the choice of tree  they select…..and forgetting that they might not need a huge shade tree to tower 50 feet or more  above any house in view.

Most trees on home properties  in the Twin Cities are weed trees, Siberian elms, mulberries, buckthorn, silver maple, green ash, box elders, even American elms.  

“I want color”, the homeowner demands.    Maples come to mind.   “I want a fast growing tree” and silver maple comes to mind, one of the most undesireable trees for any city  home lot and most lots beyond.  

The green ash is everywhere.   It is also fast growing and very weedy…..and cheap, very cheap from mass production thirty and forty years ago when folks hunted around for replacements for the American Elm.

Anything evergreen in trees is almost always called “pine” by our fellow northland natives.    Whether spruce, hemlock, arborvitae, fir or pine, they are called pine.   As mentioned earlier they are often not thought of as a ‘tree’, only as a pine or evergreen.

There is absolutely no difference between a White Oak, Sugar Maple, and a White or Scotch Pine in their natural growing habit.    If their lower branches are not removed, or die out due to lack of light, or are eaten,  they all   become shade trees…..big shade trees, at that……100 feet high shade trees whether your city neighbor wants shade or not.

Folks generally don’t like to cut down trees on their own premises.  It’s an emotional thing.   Some of the Colorado spruce around the Twin Cities are 80% dead and show every per cent of the  ugly deadness…..yet, no one cuts them out to make their home grounds more beautiful.

Most homeowners for that matter take their home grounds as it is without much thought of beauty.

I am not a fan of crab apples.    Unless our clients demand “crabs”  we prefer the redbud and the pagoda dogwood among the smaller class of trees usually sold as ornamentals.   

A far more beautiful tree than any crab apple, in my view, of course, is a new one for our horticultural zone market and not yet readily available……the Paperbark Maple, Acer griseum. 

No, it does not possess colorful flowers.  

It is a neat, very precisely shaped tree in  form and leaf, midsized, with the most beautiful colored bark to see back lit in sun.    Place it on the South aspect and be captivated by its radiant rich reddish to caramel brown peeling trunk all day long when sunlit.  You won’t get much work done, but you sure will be inspired by the scene.

Its fall color  depends upon the length of autumn before snowfall.   In its native states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, the tree displays as beautiful a fall color of foliage of any tree.

Think carefully before buying any tree to be planted  on your home grounds.   Consider its mature size and its expected size in ten years.   If you live in one of those suburbs where all of the grounds’ top soil was removed, you might be lucky to grow a Box Elder.    There is always the Siberian Elm…..which would probably grow well in Hades.   You won’t be able to buy it at your local nursery.   So, snooker up to  a friend living in Minneapolis or in one of its inner suburbs and collect a few of the millions of seeds or simply transplant one of the Siberian Elm already a weed.    You won’t mind the tree  if you believe that halitosis is better than no breath at all.

Consider how much of your homegrounds  you want covered with shade.    Lawns grow poorly in shade……think weeds, because they will.   Fewer shrubs and perennials grow well in deep shade.    Worst of all if your grounds are covered with shade, you cannot see the beauty displayed by  the sunlit shadows, character  and colors of  components which make  the landscape a gardened one.

Plant your trees and shrubs according to  the path of sunlight across your homegrounds.    Remember that the sun without clouds is nature’s spotlight constantly moving across the stage.   While the deep shade of the garden may be cooler in summer by twenty degrees, its shade if everywhere will deny the drama of  what is specially lit for a few minutes and then slips out of the picture into shade.

The landscape garden’s best friend is the sun.   Its  second is shade, and third is water.

Beware of planting the big trees.    The trouble with these trees is their shade, despite its pleasure….and their roots.    Too many big trees on the homegrounds  is what makes hostas  so popular.