At the outset, “right tree, right place” seems to be a rather simple concept, doesn’t it? Yet, I see so many poorly placed trees, I sometimes wonder if proper tree placement is, in fact, simple. Or is ignorance or inexperience to blame for so many trees being planted in so many inappropriate locations?

If you investigate just a bit, you’ll find several reasons why trees are placed poorly, but likely the biggest reason is failure to think long term. The tree planter focused on the today, the short term, the here and now. That’s why they planted the tree too close to a house or on a property line. The property owner is thinking only of their immediate needs, not those of future owners.

Good tree placement takes thought up front. After all, you can’t move it 10 years down the road … OK, you can, but it’s usually an ordeal that is impractical and expensive.

Carefully consider the site and the tree’s impact on the site, as well as the site’s impact on the tree. In other words, identify the characteristics of and needs for the site and the problems the tree will solve or the enhancements it will bring to that particular site.

Then consider basic design principles of line, texture, form, repetition, size or shape and layering. Perhaps the most important of these, at least in a replacement sense, is separation of trees and turfgrass. From a tree care point of view, it’s the one to focus on because trees and turf have very different needs — watering, fertilizing, mowing, pest control — but they are often treated the same because they’re located in the same space.

There are many examples of good and bad locations for trees in the landscape, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on five of each.

Bad Locations

1. Hell in Strips.

Narrow and oddly shaped pieces of the landscape are simply not conducive to healthy tree growth in terms of soil volume and everyday maintenance.

2. Under Power Lines.

This creates problems for power companies, which will have to prune the trees so that they don’t eventually damage power lines. This is expensive and the trees look horrible after being butchered away from the lines.

3. Where it casts too much shade on a tee or sports field.

Shade is great, but not where it interferes with the function of recreational activities underneath.

4. Where it drops too much debris

Fruit, twigs and leaves often get in the way of activities at shopping malls, golf greens and office buildings.

Tree debris can be a problem, especially on sites where it’s difficult to remove.

5. In the middle of a yard

When trees are placed in the midst of turf being cared for at a higher level of maintenance, the common result is soggy tree roots leading to root rot and other problems arising from growing too rapidly.

Good Locations

1. To cast shade on patios, tee boxes, park benches or picnic tables

Ask 100 people what the main purpose of a tree is, and the majority of them will say “for shade.” After all, no one wants to sit in the full sun for hours and hours.

2. Screening of Views

Industrial parks, lazy neighbors, tattoo parlors, etc., need to be screened from the client’s property.

Framing trees can give perspective and enclosure of a space where needed.

3. Windbreaks for snow and wind reduction

In northern climates, windbreaks serve an important functional and aesthetic purpose in redirecting wind and snow away from places of human habitation.

4. Backdrop for gold greens, framing trees for residential settings

Sometimes it’s not so much the tree, but the element in the landscape that is next to or in front of the tree that is important. Backdrop and framing trees provide for this.

5. Bolster the mass/void and space definition design features

Trees placed in the landscape at overstory and under-story levels enhance existing plantings if sun or shade and moisture needs are taken into account.

6. Habitat for Songbirds

Who doesn’t appreciate hearing the songs of cardinals and the cooing of morning doves in the spring and see flashes of color as songbirds visit or perhaps even nest in the trees on their property?