Deb Babcock: Selecting trees for your landscape |

Deb Babcock: Selecting trees for your landscape

Deb Babcock

When selecting a tree for your Steamboat area yard or garden, there are several considerations to take into account for a successful experience.

First and foremost is the ability of the tree to withstand our high mountain climate. The dividing line for many trees is about 8,500 feet elevation. If your home is at or above that elevation, it’s best to plant only native varieties. A list of trees that are hardy at local elevations of 7,000 feet and above can be found in fact sheets (7.408, 7.418 and 7.419) available from the CSU Extension website at

Another consideration when choosing a tree is its growth rate. Some trees, such as cottonwoods and aspens (Populus ssp), are fast growing and fill in a yard or garden area quickly while Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), maple (Acer ssp) and mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) trees grow slowly. If you’re developing a landscape that you hope to mature at a slow, steady pace, slower growing trees might be your choice as might some flowering trees that take longer to mature. On the other hand, a hot, sunny patio might be in need of shade as soon as possible or an objectionable view might need to be blocked quickly, requiring faster growth.

Consider the placement of your tree, both in terms of its proximity to other structures in the garden or yard and in terms of other nearby plants. Make sure that your tree will have adequate space at its full maturity so its branches and roots don’t encroach on your home’s foundation and roof or a driveway or patio, for example. Also, a tree with shallow roots shouldn’t be planted in an area where it competes with other plants for water and nutrients. Chances are, the tree will survive to the detriment of the lawn or other plants. Also, trees with low water requirements should not be planted in an area that is irrigated frequently.

Longevity is another item to consider when choosing a tree. If you’re planting for future generations, you probably don’t want a short-lived tree or one that becomes unattractive when it nears old age. Short-lived trees, such as aspens and many fruit trees, certainly are not less desirable, but they should be placed in a spot where they easily can be replaced or removed without disfiguring the landscape design you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Depending on the amount of time you want to spend caring for your tree, be sure to also note the possible problems a tree might encounter in terms of maintenance, disease or pest control. Look for a description that describes any “litter” that the tree might drop in terms of leaves, pods, flowers or fruit if you want to avoid ongoing clean-up tasks. Also, some trees are plagued by problems related to our environment such as the pine and spruce beetle infestation that has been occurring locally or the propensity for trees to develop oozing cankers, such as aspen Cytospera. You might want to choose less troublesome, more maintenance-free trees.

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Ordinarily in September, the weather cools enough to place less stress on newly planted trees but this year, the heat isn’t relenting. While spring generally is a little better time for tree planting, fall is second best. So once the weather cools a little more, take advantage of all the tree sales at local nurseries and plant yourself some trees this fall before the ground freezes.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 or email with questions.

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