Tree Planting Q&A

Ask the Arborist: Tree Planting Q&A

In honor of Arbor Day, Davey wants to help you plant a tree to last a lifetime. We asked our followers on social media to submit their tree planting questions using the hashtag #AskTheArborist. We’ve compiled the top five questions with answers provided by our experts at the Davey Institute below. Happy planting!

1. What type of trees are best to plant in the DC area?

The term "Best" must always be used with caution.  A tree species perfect in one location can become a liability in another.  As an initial step, I recommend you visit Casey Tree's tree selection page:

This non-profit organization provides a wealth of tree care information and is based in the DC area.  Remember, it is always a good idea have an idea of what you are looking for in a tree, as well as information about your planting site, before searching and selecting your tree.  You only get to plant a tree once! 

2. I had to have a New England Plum tree removed last spring, due to disease. I would like to replace with a shade tree, but I need to be sure I select a shade tree that has a non-invasive root system, as it will be close to water lines at the front of my home. I love maple trees because of their fall colors, but would a maple tree be the right choice? The front of my home has full sunlight the entire afternoon so in summer it gets quite hot without a shade tree in the yard. I live in far northeastern Illinois, about a half hour from the Wisconsin border. Suggestions?

Thank you for taking the time to research the possibilities for your new tree!  Too many people simply go to the garden center and pick one based on the picture on the tag that "looks nice."  We only get to plant a tree once, so picking a great tree for the site that meets your needs is very important.

There are many different tree species.  One important aspect that we should all consider when selecting new trees is "diversity."  Having many different types of trees in our landscapes helps protect us from losing too many individual trees from a single pest; such as we now face with ash and the emerald ash borer.

As a first step, I suggest you refer to one of the tree selection sites that are available on-line. I have listed a few below.  Try several and compare the results.  Each asks a series of questions about your site and desires, and then prepares a list of possible choices.  Don't be afraid to chase down some of the more hard to find species.  The enjoyment of having something a little different from everyone else can be refreshing!

With respect to your concern about water lines, do realize that roots from any tree species can invade pipes.  Pipes with cracks or many joints are generally considered more at risk, and small ornamental trees tend to pose less risk than large shade trees because their root systems tend to be smaller.  This may factor into your decision.

Here is a fact sheet that may assist:

I hope this information proves useful.  Enjoy the search for your new tree!

3. How do I get my Aspen trees to spread? I have three in front of my home and I would love there to be more. I live at 8200 feet in the mountains of Colorado.

Because aspen is used for pulp production, there is quite a bit of information about why trees do or do not send up root sprouts. Here are a couple references that will explain the details.  Do remember however, that sprouts can form wherever there are aspen roots, whether you want them there or not!  Many people complain about sprouts growing up in their lawns or on their neighbors' property where they may not be appreciated.  Good Luck!

4. Are we in for an unusual spring in Cleveland re: budding progression? Seems some trees (dogwoods for example) are behind the maple and oaks... anything we should look out for?

So many variables can affect how trees leaf out/flower in the spring to make predictions on a local basis difficult.  Early vs. late springs are determined by how many "degree days" are accumulated over time.  Because insect activity is also correlated with accumulated degree days, we can take advantage of the maps that are prepared for this purpose.

Go to and check out the degree day maps there.  They provide a comparison of how many degree days have accumulated so far this season, compared to the historical average.  This will allow you to roughly compare what is happening in your local area.  Pest managers usually use the 50 F base threshold maps, but some believe the 41 F base threshold map to be better when looking at plant development.  Have Fun!

5. My stuff always seems to die even though I dig, plant and water "just right." Help?

Not a lot to go on, but I would suspect you may be dealing with a soil related issue. I would suggest taking a good soil sample and having a "texture analysis" run to determine the sand:silt:clay mix. This can provide a handle on some of the potential problems (such as poor aereation, prone to overwatering etc) that may be causing your issues. Hope this helps a little!

Contact your local certified Davey office with any more questions you have concerning the planting of your trees. 

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