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Reach for the sky

Trees and shrubs add height and interest to your yard

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A mix of trees and shrubs adds visual variety to your yard. This yard features Japanese maples, rhododenron, and evergreens.

Trees produce oxygen, reduce smog, shelter birds and small animals, and provide shade on sunny days. They also add natural beauty and structure to a yard and have the power to boost a home’s property value by 5–15% — even more if the entire street is tree-lined, according to Arbor Plant Health Care, a Halifax-based tree-care company.

Dianne Earl manages tree and shrub sales at Scott’s Nursery in Lincoln, N.B. She says homeowners must start by assessing their property size because a massive tree can overtake a small yard.

“Most trees average 40–60 feet [12–18 m] at least, which means a canopy of at least 30 feet (9 m) around,” says Earl. “Trees look small when you buy them, and a lot of people don’t realize how big they can grow.”

She says small yards do best with trees that reach 6 m or less, like ivory silk lilac, red maple, sugar maple, and Hot Wings Tatarian maple.

If you have a large yard, she suggests a new variety called Autumn Blaze maple, a fast-growing cross between silver maple and red maple with vibrant fall colours.

The grass may look greener in a neighbour’s yard, but it’s what’s under it that counts when you plant a tree. Not every variety of tree can survive in every type of soil.

Earl says she asks homeowners if their soil is wet or dry, clay or sandy before planting. If you aren’t sure, dig a small hole, about 30 by 30 cm, and fill it with water. If it takes more than 20 minutes for the water to drain, you’ll need to plant trees that can tolerate wet soil.

Once you’ve determined an appropriate tree size based on your property and which varieties will flourish, start thinking about what style of tree you want. Think about its purpose or if it’s simply ornamental.

“A lot of people are planting trees to celebrate new babies, so every child in the family gets their own tree,” says Earl. “Other families are choosing to plant fruit trees so they can enjoy freshly-picked pears, apples, plums, peaches, and berries from their own yard.”

Even though they don’t bear fruit or bloom with fragrant flowers, Earl says evergreens are a nice, and uncomplicated, choice.

Across the Northumberland Strait in Norboro, P.E.I., Kevin Cook built his career on a leafy base of trees and shrubs. He owns Honey Tree Nursery, which specializes in gorgeous ornamental and flowering trees that are hardy enough to survive the island’s cold winters.

Philadelphus coronarius (sweet mock-orange or English dogwood)

Cook says he sells a lot of Japanese maples because “they’re gorgeous and they do really well on P.E.I.,” and magnolias. For homeowners seeking a pretty, fast-growing, and inexpensive option, he suggests ninebarks, a flowering shrub, or mock orange bushes, which bring a citrus smell to your yard.

Certain tree varieties are off-limits based on the layout of your property. Ignoring your local nursery’s advice could wind up costing you thousands of dollars in plumbing repairs.

Everyone loves the dramatic elegance of a classic weeping willow, says Earl, but almost no one can actually plant one on their property.

“You can’t plant one within 150 feet [45 m] of a septic or sewer system because the roots run and strangle the pipes,” says Earl. “They really only work in large backyards that are very, very wet, to keep the roots under control.”

Some homeowners have more space than they know what to do with and trees can add definition. Earl says sometimes people move into a new-construction home where all of the trees were cut down, and they want to liven up their empty-looking property. Bring photos to the nursery while shopping if you’re starting from a blank canvas. It makes it easier for staff to understand your space.

Plant a potted tree anytime the ground is soft enough for digging, usually from May through the end of October, says Earl. Spring is best so your tree can settle in over summer and early fall.

“Dig the hole no deeper than the tree, and twice as wide to give the roots somewhere to go,” says Earl. “It should be planted at the same level it is in the pot you buy it in. Too low before the soil level, and the tree will sink and choke.”

She recommends then adding a bit of good compost, like sea compost or cow manure, and bone meal to help the roots. Only small trees in a windy area need staking. Once your tree is in the ground, water it faithfully, once a week, and let it establish roots. A newly-planted tree might require as much as 20 L of water on a hot summer day.

Some trees can live 50 or even 100 years, and Cook says the world would be a better place if more homeowners took the initiative to plant them.

“Global warming is a fact, and with greenhouse gas emissions going crazy, one thing that can help is planting more trees,” says Cook. “We need to plant anything that has flowers to attract bees, so they can cross pollinate other trees and plants. If we can do that, we’ll have reminders to stop and smell the roses for the rest of our lives.”

Shrubs are a set-it-and forget-it option after the first year of growth.

Quick tips for trees and shrubs

Trees should match the scale of your property. Big homes need bigger trees but a smaller home is easily dwarfed by a huge tree.

Trees are an investment, but they can live for 50 or even 100 years, and boost your property value.

Trees are at their most sensitive during their first year in the ground. After that, they’re pretty self-sufficient.

Shrubs are the best value for your gardening dollar. They’re relatively inexpensive, live a long time, and need almost no care after the first year (except for a bit of pruning and fertilizing).

If you’re looking for shrubs that can stand up to tough Atlantic Canadian winters, pick ones with the words Arctic or Siberian in the name.

SOURCE: Hickey’s Greenhouses & Nursery Ltd., in Kelligrews
and Dunville, N.L.

East Coast Living