University of Maryland Extension

Tree and Shrub Selection

Magnolia grandiflora

This southern magnolia's blossoms and glossy foliage make it a wonderful specimen plant. But those thick, leathery, evergreen leaves can cause a maintenance problem in a high-traffic area





Tree and Shrub Selection Tips - Right Plant - Right Place!

  • Selecting an appropriate tree is the first step of successful tree planting.

    • Research how big the tree or shrub will grow to when mature. Mature trees can reach heights of 15 ft. to more than 100 ft. Some trees and shrubs spread out when mature and others grow upright and narrow.
    • Determining  tree size and shape before you plant can save you the job of removing the tree or shrub in the future because it has grown too big for the site.
    • Select disease or insect-resistant varieties of ornamental plants. Contact our Ask an Expert consultants  to get advice or contact your local Cooperative Extension Service. 
    • Be aware of the utilities above and below ground. Large shade trees should be planted well away from power lines.  Plant roots and underground utilities are in danger of damage if they are too close.  Always contact Miss Utility (1-800-257-7777) before planting.

 dwarf Alberta spruce blocking house front windows
Overgrown dwarf Alberta spruce blocking view from windows

  • What is the tree's proposed use in the landscape?

    • Trees and shrubs provide shade, block unsightly views, and provide interest with their flowers, fruit, foliage, and attractive bark. Also important is a tree’s resistance or susceptibility to, various insects and diseases. Make a list of characteristics you desire to narrow down your search for a new plant. Height, spread, evergreen or deciduous, attractive flowers or fruit, low water requirements, and soil adaptability are some of the characteristics to list before you go tree shopping.

  • Adaptability to site conditions.

    • Based on your site evaluation in terms of sun exposure, soil, and wind, is the plant capable of growing satisfactorily? Know your hardiness zone which is based on the average low temperature in winter. If a plant cannot survive the coldest winter temperatures, don’t plant it! In Maryland we have a wide range of potential low winter temperatures ranging from the coldest in the western part of the state and the mildest on the lower eastern shore. If you are considering a plant in which the winter hardiness is in question or unknown, check with the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center Ask the Experts or your local County Extension office for guidance.
  • Plants to avoid. 

    • Invasive species like burning bush and barberry, high maintenance plants, and plants that do not grow in your climate zone.

  • Now it is time to go tree shopping.

    • Buy trees from a reliable nursery. While there is no official rating of nurseries and garden centers, there are several things that can be used to evaluate the quality. A quality nursery will usually be clean, well designed, and provide easy access to the plants. They will have a large stock of trees and be willing to answer all of your questions.
    • Trees should be clearly labeled and free from any damage to the trunk, branches, and foliage. A reliable nursery will provide some type of guarantee period, which should extend at least through one summer season.   

Additional References

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