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Branching Out


Now that summer has unofficially settled into deep South Texas, I find myself regretting my “can’t wait for warmer weather” mantra of last January and now find myself looking for that cooler, shady spot.

There are loads of benefits to trees and you’ve probably heard that list repeated: like a properly placed tree can save 20-30% of cooling costs, trees clean the air by inhaling the CO2 we expend daily along with exhausts of our car engines and replace it with oxygen, and trees can increase the value of your home. But there is one other benefit to trees that I was reminded of this past weekend. Some studies suggest that trees foster more sociable neighborhoods. The natural scenery and shade created by trees are spaces that attract people. When people are drawn to spaces with trees, they are more likely to interact with their neighbors and become friends. A street of mature trees and beautiful dappled shade invites conversation and neighborhood gatherings.

In my mind every garden needs a tree. Even a tiny yard can benefit from a small tree with appropriate architectural scale. Trees add the visual interest of light and shadow, can produce fruit or flowers, cooling shade for a picnic table and even create privacy.

When choosing a tree, it is important to consider its eventual size. Trees that grow 30 feet or more should be planted well away from the house—at least 20 feet away. Smaller trees or palms at least 5 feet, and as for those the large ficus trees—some authorities say 200 feet is too close.

The biggest problem with selecting the right tree is our own perception of what is a great tree. We tend to think the perfect tree has a 15’ x 15’ spread; blooms in every color imaginable on a year round basis, performs well in full sun, shade or even a closet; will remain a solid 15’ x15’ height in a pond, a desert or with an irrigation system that goes on whenever we feel like; plus it never needs pruning or fertilization. Sometimes the best trees are those we often overlook because we have not educated ourselves in their best uses. Learn to use trees (and plants) to the best of their abilities both aesthetically and physically.

Every kind of tree is apt to have some habit or characteristic that given a choice, you’d have corrected but the tree to choose is the one with most positives and the least negatives for your situation.

If it is only SHADE you want there are lots of no-nonsense, leafy trees to choose from: Live Oak, Gumbo Limbo, Allspice, Podocarpus, Mahogany, Tipuana Tipu. Tamarind. With FLOWERING trees they put on their show periodically and many then become lovely green shade trees until their next performance but they can be a bit untidy : Royal Poinciana, Plumeria, Jacaranda, Golden Shower, Tabebuias, Silk Floss, the Cordias including the Texas Wild Olive. With FRUIT trees we are one of the premier places in which to grow tropical fruit trees. Some are easy to grow like Papaya while most others do require more attention like Citrus, Mango, Avocado, Banana and Mulberry.

Full grown trees are the most valuable plants in your landscape. They add grace and character and a bit of shade to your house and yard.