How Do I Choose the Best Backyard Trees?

Lumara Lee
Lumara Lee
Homeowners often plant large shade trees to shield yards from the summer sun.
Homeowners often plant large shade trees to shield yards from the summer sun.

The first step in choosing the best backyard trees is to decide what characteristics you want the trees to have. For example, if your goal is to grow trees that will mature quickly, a fast-growing species such as maple, hybrid poplar, or tulip poplar will be a good choice. If you want to plant trees for privacy year round, a row of evergreens like cedar or leyland cypress will provide a natural screen. The next step in selecting the best backyard trees is to decide the proper size of tree that will fit in the available space. You want to make sure that you don’t plant a large tree in a spot that will necessitate frequent pruning, such as near power lines.

Choosing the best backyard trees is an important decision because these trees will be an important feature in the landscape for many years. If you are considering trees that will provide a source of food, fruit or nut trees are excellent choices, and they will have the added benefits of providing attractive blossoms and shade. Nut and fruit trees are available in dwarf as well as traditional varieties so even a small backyard can be home to one or more of these food-bearing trees. If the backyard is large enough, you can even plant a small orchard with different varieties of fruit and nut trees.

One reason that many people choose to plant backyard trees is for a source of shade. In warm climates, a large shade tree growing by the house can shield it from the hot summer sun and lower the costs of air conditioning. Being able to sit under the cool, verdant canopy of a shade tree on a hot day will extend the amount of time that people can enjoy being outdoors.

If a large shade tree with a spreading canopy is what you’d like to see in your backyard, oaks are good choices and very hardy backyard trees. Pin oaks are fast-growing oaks that reach a height of 60 to 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) at maturity and a spread of approximately 25 feet (7.6 meters). White oaks, on the other hand, grow slowly but have a more spreading habit, reaching a height at maturity of 100 feet (30 meters) and a spread of 50 feet (15 meters). Cottonwoods are also fast-growing shade trees that can grow as high as 90 feet (27 meters) with a 35-foot (10.6-meter) canopy.

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Discussion Comments


@Fa5t3r - All of those things are good considerations. I don't know if I'd go for an evergreen though. I'd rather have a fruit tree and they tend to be deciduous. I'd just put it away from the house and let it litter the ground as much as it wanted. It's all good fertilizer, after all.


@pleonasm - I'd say that, even more importantly, you need to take the area into account. Your tree isn't going to last long if it's enormous and blocking the neighbor's view of a lake or something. It's going to be cut down even faster if it looks like it's about to interfere with power lines or pipes.

You also have to take into account your own comfort and ease. Are you going to enjoy cleaning up leaves every fall, particularly from your gutters? If not, maybe consider an evergreen that won't lose its leaves.


Remember that your trees are going to have to exist in a tiny ecosystem with all the other plants you have in your backyard. There are quite a few ways in which a tree might impact (or be impacted by) other plants around it.

Shading is probably the most common problem. It doesn't have to be a problem if you pick shade tolerant plants, but they might not be what you have in mind for the perfect garden. Or, they might be exactly what you have in mind, in which case you should definitely look for a tree that can provide shade.

Just make sure it's not going to provide too much shade, as even the most shade tolerant plants need small amounts of sunshine occasionally.

A tree can also change the chemistry of the local soil. Eucalyptus are often very popular because they grow fast, but they also tend to make the soils too alkaline for other species. That can be corrected with fertilizers, but they definitely are not ideal if you're hoping for an organic vegetable garden.

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    • Homeowners often plant large shade trees to shield yards from the summer sun.
      Homeowners often plant large shade trees to shield yards from the summer sun.