“He who plants a tree plants a hope.” That quote from American poet Lucy Larcom is truer now than when she published it in 1876. Trees create the air we breathe, filter air pollution, and reduce ozone levels. They also help fight global warming by removing carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses from the air.
But before you rush out and cover your Atlanta landscape with dozens of trees, consider the care and maintenance involved. You also need to consider the tree’s size at maturity. Some trees, such as mimosa (Albizia julibrissin Durazz), are invasive and will crowd out local species. You’ll also spend hours cleaning up after them. You can avoid a lot of headaches by choosing the five best trees to plant in Atlanta.
1. Southern Live Oak
The Southern live oak has deep roots in Georgia. This indigenous tree was chosen as the state tree for its strength and its connection to Georgia’s history. Early settlers used wood from the Southern live oak to build ships and many of the state buildings which still stand today.
Live oaks will provide you with shade for years, but you must have a big enough yard to allow it to spread. If you have a smaller yard, consider one of the many cultivars, such as the highrise oak. It will provide you with shade, without the need for quite as much room.
2. Princeton Elm
This fast-growing tree produces large leaves that provide shade in the summer and beautiful yellow and gold colors come autumn.
3. River Birch
You’ll often see this native tree along riverbeds and lakes. It can grow up to 90 feet tall, producing gorgeous yellow leaves in the fall. This tree produces small green cones every summer. Yanni Chen with the University of Georgia Extension office warns this tree may also produce some headaches. “The river birch will leave your yard full of tiny limbs and twigs year-round.” But she says this tree is still preferable to the mimosa because it’s native to the Eastern U.S. “We always encourage homeowners to plant native trees and shrubs that will encourage the pollinator population.”
The magnolia tree has been a symbol of the deep south from the beginning. There are more than 200 species of magnolia, but the native trees are best for Atlanta. They include the bigleaf magnolia (macrophylla Michx), the umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala), sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia Virginiana L.), and pyramid magnolia (Magnolia pyramidata Bartr). All offer fragrant large blooms of white, pink, purple, red, or yellow.
5. White Dogwood
These work best in areas that get some shade. In the wild, you’ll often see dogwoods as understory trees, shaded by tall pines. They do best when planted with taller trees. That can be tough, considering the dogwood tree can grow as high as 25 feet tall.
6. Crape Myrtle
This flowering beauty is a staple of the south. It produces gorgeous red, white or pink blooms that never disappoint. But the trees need full sun and will drop those elegant blooms all over your lawn at the end of fall. Crape myrtles are drought resistant.
7. Peach Tree
No article on trees would be complete without mentioning the Georgia peach tree. The climate is perfect for this favorite tree. They need full sunlight but can survive the occasional frost.
8. Pear Trees
You’ll find almost as many pear trees as peach trees in Atlanta. But the climate is only accommodating to Oriental and Asian pears, not the European or Bartlett variety. Bradford pear trees will grow in Atlanta, but they easily split.
9. Apple Trees
While apple trees are native to central Asia, red delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji apples grow abundantly in Georgia. You may need to add lime to your soil before planting an apple tree. Apple trees also benefit from proper pruning.
10. Apricot Trees
Most Apricots will flourish in Atlanta, including the Moorpark and yellow golden variety. The Katy variety does better in Southwest Georgia, where temperatures rarely drop below freezing.
Atlanta’s climate is not conducive for citrus or tropical fruits. While peaches, nectarines, and apricots will thrive, the occasional frost can be detrimental to warm-weather fruits.
Right Place, Right Time
Before planting any tree, get a sight survey. Make sure your soil conditions are optimal for the trees you’re choosing. Consider the trees’ growth pattern before deciding how close to plant it to any buildings. Map out all utility lines on your property and make sure the tree’s growth won’t interfere with a line, or a falling branch won’t cause a power outage, or even worse, a fire. Many fast-growing trees have aggressive root systems that could interfere with the foundation of your home or your septic system. And while deciduous trees are gorgeous in the fall, one planted too close to the fence line could create some hostile situations with the neighbors.
Atlanta’s Tree Protection Ordinance could prohibit you from planting your favorite tree or from removing a tree that is no longer desirable. The ordinance also regulates the methods you use to prune your trees. It’s best to contact the city’s arborist division before grabbing a shovel, or saw.