As you embark on your house-hunting ventures, chances are the contenders canopied by mature trees will make the top of your list. Or, if you're buying a new home, you're probably anxious to get those trees planted to reap the awards in the years ahead.

The benefits of trees are numerous. They increase property values, sometimes as much as 20 percent, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation. On average, trees add between 5 to 7 percent to the value of the property - the U.S. Forest Service says the added value results in an extra $5,000 per lot.

Trees also help cool your home. The USFS says trees that are placed strategically around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 to 50 percent in energy used to heat a home.

Growing Greener Cities, A Tree Planting Handbook (Global Releaf, Living Plant Press, Los Angeles, 1992), says the average base value for a tree with a 10-inch diameter (measured 4.5 feet from the ground) is $1,729. A tree with a 30-inch diameter has an average base value of $15,554. The values are adjusted based on species, location in relation to the house, and condition.

As you set out to plant a tree, the International Society of Arboriculture recommends you consider:

  • The reason the tree is being planted. Will it be for shade, fruit, or seasonal color?
  • How much space you have. Determine whether a small-, medium- or large-sized tree would fit best. Be sure to consider overhead and underground wires and utilities.
  • Clearance for sidewalks, patios and driveways.
  • Soil conditions. Is the soil deep, fertile and well drained, or is it shallow, compact, and infertile? Many nurseries and garden centers will provide - for a minor fee - an evaluation of your soil's fertility and pH. The test is typically returned with recommendations for improving your soil with fertilizers or soil amendments.
  • Exposure. How much sunlight will the tree have? Most woody plants need full sunlight; some do well in light shade. Few perform well under heavy shade conditions. You should also think about exposure to wind and be ready to stake young trees.
  • Drainage. Tree roots need oxygen to thrive. You can test the drainage in the space you are considering by planting test holes 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Fill with water and see how long it takes for the water to drain completely. It shouldn't take more than six hours.
  • Hardiness. This is how well the tree would hold up in extreme hot and cold conditions for specific geographic regions.
  • Required maintenance. Factor in how much upkeep you're willing to provide. Consider the time necessary for watering, fertilizing, and pruning. The ISA says the top five reasons trees die are related to people - soil compaction, underwatering, overwatering, vandalism, and planting the wrong tree.

    Next, you'll want to think about what type of form you're seeking. Think about what the mature tree will look like, and be sure you have enough space. Some of the forms to think about include pyramidal, full-crowned, vase, fountain, spreading, layered, columnar, and weeping.

    The ISA says a small spreading tree is a good choice for a location with overhead utility lines. A narrow, columnar form provides a good screen, especially when a row of them are planted alongside one another. A large vase-shaped tree can create an arbor over a driveway or city street.

    Once you've gone through these steps you'll be ready to pick a species of tree that will best meet your needs. For further assistance, contact you local ISA certified arborist, tree care professional, garden center or county extension agent for help.

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