Front Yard Tree Placement: How to Pick, Plant Showpiece Trees

There’s something welcoming about the mature canopy of a tree in the front yard. It greets you and your guests, guides you to the front door, and provides shade and comfort during the warm months. And planting trees serves a larger purpose: One full-grown tree absorbs as much as 48 pounds of carbon pollution every year.

Dave Leonard
Dave Leonard

The tree you choose for front yard landscaping makes a statement about who you are, and provides curb appeal for your home. According to the USDA Forest Service, healthy trees can add an average of 10 percent to a property’s value, and the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers report that a mature tree can have an appraised value of between $1,000 and $10,000.

How do you choose the right tree for your front yard, and prepare it for a lifetime of good health on your property?

It all begins with careful planning, says Dave Leonard, International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Board Certified Master Arborist and owner of Dave Leonard Tree Specialists. “There’s a lot more to planting a tree than the average citizen knows.”

Choosing and planting a tree in your front yard involves research of local ordinances, tree placement, growth and behavior of different types of trees, and how the tree will affect your property and the land around it.

What Types of Trees to Consider

Types of trees: “Large deciduous trees benefit properties the most, but it depends on several factors,” says Leonard. A front yard tree should be appealing from the view of the street, but should not overwhelm the house itself. A large shade tree can reduce energy costs by as much as 50 percent annually, by cooling the home in summer and providing a windbreak in winter months.

Compared to the larger trees, small trees and dwarf varieties may not cost as much, and their shorter mature height will prevent damage from overhanging branches. They also may have colorful flowers or interesting branch patterns that add to the beauty of the landscape design.

Smaller trees can be planted closer to your home and give it a more intimate feel and a splash of color. Credit: cocoparisienne

8 Tree Selection Questions

  1. What is the ultimate tree size — how wide or tall will the tree grow?
  2. What tree shape do you desire — round or oblong, tall or short?
  3. Should I plant a deciduous tree or evergreen tree?
  4. How fast does it grow?
  5. How long does this type of tree typically live?
  6. What does it need in terms of sun, soil, or moisture?
  7. Will it bear fruit, or require maintenance that I just don’t want to provide?
  8. Will it grow in my USDA hardiness zone?

One Tree Vs. Grouping Several

One beautiful specimen tree can become the star of your yard. Group tree plantings can be a focal point, frame a landscape. or define a space. Leonard suggests combining fast-growing and slow-growing plants to stagger tree life spans. “Fast-growing trees are more commonly weaker and lose limbs that slower-growing trees don’t.”

The rate of growth usually means how tall a tree will grow, not how wide it grows. The rate can vary from tree to tree depending on soil health, drainage, light and other factors. Slow growth means the tree grows 12 inches or less annually, medium growth is 13-24 inches per year, and fast growth is 25 inches of growth or more annually, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.

Placing your front-yard trees in a group adds focus.
Placing your front-yard trees in a group adds focus.

Trees to Consider

Some front-yard tree options include:

Slow-Growing Trees

  • Black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica): Slow to medium growth. Fall leaves can change to many different shades of red, yellow, purple, or orange — more than one color may appear on the same branch. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Crabapple (Malus): Slow growth. The variety of crabapple called the “Sargent” is one of the slowest growing crabapples. It is easily pruned to a desired height. Tiny red fruit in the fall. Zones 3 to 9.
  • Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum): Slow growth. Many varieties of Japanese maples have burgundy leaves that turn crimson in the fall. Zones 5 to 8.
  • Snow Fountains Weeping Cherry (Prunus x ‘Snofozam’) Slow growth. Hanging or “weeping” branches have white flowers in the spring. Zones 4 to 8.

Medium-Growing Trees

  • American Redbud (Cercis canadensis): Medium growth. Pink flowers in April. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Eskimo Sunset Sycamore Maple (Acer pseudoplatanus ‘Esk Sunset’): Medium growth. New leaves are pinkish-orange and mature to color-splashed green with purple on the abaxial side of the leaf. Zones 5 to 8.
  • Fox Valley Dwarf River Birch (Betula nigra ‘Little King’): Medium growth. Small tree with pretty, exfoliating bark. Zones 4 to 10.
  • Ivory Halo Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’): Medium growth. Creamy green and white variegated leaves. Zones 3 to 7.
  • Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria). Medium growth. This small tree has tiny seed clusters that turn smoky pink or grey through the summer. Zones 5 to 8.
  • Thundercloud Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud) Medium growth. Burgundy to purple foliage, and pink blooms in the spring, turning to edible red fruits. Zones 4 to 9.

Medium-Fast Growing Trees

  • Red Maple (Acer rubrum): Medium to fast growth. New leaves are red-trimmed and turn green, then to dark red or yellow in the fall. Zones 5 to 9.
  • Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Conica’): Medium to fast growth, but this evergreen is only 4′ to 5′ tall at maturity. Zones 2 to 6.

Fast-Growing Trees

  • Cleveland Select Flowering Pear Tree (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’): Fast growth. Bluish fruit that ripens in the early fall. Leaves change to many colors, from bright yellow to deep red, in the fall. Zones 4 to 9.
  • Pin Oak (Quercus palustris): Fast growth. Leaves turn russet in the fall. Zones 4 to 8.
  • Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) Fast growth. Aromatic stems and yellowish flowers. Leaves turn yellow in the fall. Zones 4 to 9.

Where to Place Trees in the Front Yard

So you know what kind of tree you want, and the rate at which you can expect it to grow. A few final checks and you’ll be ready to plant your tree.

Check Utilities, Permits and Restrictions

Call your local zoning departments to find out if there are planting or tree variety restrictions. You may have to call gas, water, or other utility companies to locate underground utility lines, pipes or cables, or to consult about power lines. Know where your property lines are, and make sure the mature tree will not grow into your neighbor’s land. Obtain permits if necessary.

Soil Type and Size

“Planting area size is of huge importance for the life span of the tree, as is the soil type,” advises Leonard. “This is extremely important. Also consider underground and overhead utilities, site moisture, clearance requirements, undesirable fruit, such as large acorns, messy fruit, and slope. Jim Urban stressed soil volume in his very good book, ‘Up by Roots.’”

What Bugs Trees in Your Area?

“Know your insect and disease issues in the area,” warns Leonard. “Emerald Ash borer has decimated our eastern urban forests and is moving west and south and there are many other issues. You should always consider the tree species population in a city as we don’t want too many of one species. The loss of the ash trees has seriously impacted the health of many people where cities lost large percentages of them.”

Plant With Sun in Mind

What direction does your front yard face? Will the tree block the winter sun, or will it cool the house with welcome shade in the summer? Will the large trees block sun for the flower beds or vegetable garden? Answering these questions will impact your placement of trees. “In the northern hemisphere it is good to plant deciduous trees on the southwest side of the house,” says Leonard. “If it’s really windy you can use evergreens for a windbreak or a screen.”

Step Away from the Foundation

When you plant trees, make sure to choose an area that is at least 15-20 feet from the house, to prevent problems with roots or with overhanging branches. Research the mature size of the tree or trees you have in mind: A tree with a spreading root system may need to be located farther away from the house. Or you may decide to choose a different tree that is less invasive or has a smaller canopy. Soil health should be taken into consideration as well. Heavy clay soil can cause more roots to grow near the surface of the soil, which could become a problem.

Birds and the Bees

Last but certainly not least, the tree you choose might become a home for birds and other creatures, and its flowers and pollen will help the local pollinator population. One well-chosen tree can make a big difference!

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams

Rosie Wolf Williams has kept bees, grown vegetables and flowers for farmers markets, and never misses an opportunity to have a conversation with an interesting tree.