Northwest experts give a few tree-planting tips

Locally, our weather has experienced La Niña conditions such as record late snows and many days of below-normal temperatures. However, the spring planting season will arrive.

The predicted La Niña impacts on our weather ended up creating the severe winter conditions experienced back east and in Europe. Locally, our weather has experienced La Niña conditions such as record late snows and many days of below-normal temperatures.

However, the spring planting season will arrive. The following tips will help homeowners make good tree planting decisions and avoid a few mistakes often observed by arborists.

Right Tree for the Right Place

First, size up the planting space available for a new tree. Is it a small bed next to a structure? Is it an area where a tree will have unlimited space to grow? Or is it somewhere in between?

Next, do you prefer a plant with attractive blossoms, fall color, bright fruit or no fruit. Or are you looking for interesting bark, a certain leaf texture, a short wide tree or a narrow and tall one?

Look at pictures or browse through a garden center to find selections that catch your eye. Match their preferred growing environments to your planting area such as shade, partial shade or full sun.

Find out how large a tree will grow. Small trees look very innocent in their containers, so it is important to read the labels carefully or seek the advice of a knowledgeable nursery employee. The sizes listed are ranges only, not guarantees that trees will stop growing once they reach the advertised heights.

The bottom line is to select a tree that is right for the allotted space when it is mature and for the growing environment in which it will be planted.

Mistakes to Avoid

Some arborist friends noted a few common landscape problems they have observed.

John Hushagen, owner of Seattle Tree Preservation Company, offered the following cautions:

1. Do not select eucalyptus species because most varieties grow very fast and are likely to die during a night of single-digit temperatures.

2. Avoid planting a giant sequoia or coastal redwood in an urban landscape with limited space. While they grow very well in the Northwest, few yards can handle a mature specimen.

3. Do not plant Leyland cypress trees as a hedge.  They should be spaced 10 feet or more apart so they can grow as large as possible and never require topping.  If topped, they will become maintenance nightmares because of their fast growth habit and formation of multiple tops.

4. Be careful when planting flowering cherry cultivars as street trees or in landscapes.  They often develop very large surface roots and will destroy sidewalks, patios and driveways within just a few years.

Bryce Landrud, owner of Thundering Oak Enterprises in Federal Way, offered two tree species to avoid.

1. Blieriana plum, a commonly planted purple leaf flowering ornamental, has an “unruly” growth habit and is very susceptible to numerous leaf diseases and insects.

2. Corkscrew willows can become very unsightly because of their susceptibility to a leaf blight that causes leaves and twigs to die.

Jim Barborinas of Urban Forestry Services in Mount Vernon suggests avoiding Lombardy poplars unless you have a very large area that is seasonally wet.

He recommends considering the smaller maturing varieties so that they better fit into our typically limited landscape spaces.

He urges homeowners to imagine what a tree will look like in 30 to 50 years so someone will not be forced to cut down a tree that has outgrown its space.

My personal list of trees to avoid includes the following:

1. Many spruce varieties are susceptible to aphids and spider mites.  These pests discolor foliage or cause severe needle loss.  Dwarf Alberta and Colorado blue spruce trees are particularly vulnerable.

2. Alpine, subalpine and Fraser fir species should be avoided because it will be only a matter of time before the balsam woolly adelgid, a devastating insect, will find and deform and or kill these trees.

If you already have any of these trees in your landscape, please do not run out and cut them down.  Just beware of the problems noted above.

Some of the pests can be controlled with insect or disease sprays.  However, if trees experience repeated attacks and become real eyesores, it may be time to replace them with a better behaved variety.

Dennis Tompkins, a Bonney Lake resident, is a certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor.  He provides small tree pruning, pest diagnosis, hazard tree evaluations, tree appraisals and other services for homeowners. Contact him at 253-863-7469 or e-mail Website:

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