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Technical Resources-Tree Selection & Planting


 Trees and shrubs are a valuable addition to most property. Properly planted, well maintained trees add beauty, wind protection, shade, wildlife habitat, visual screening, and other benefits to the landscape. The most important concept is to "PLANT THE RIGHT TREE IN THE RIGHT LOCATION."


The simple act of planting a tree has often made a tree's life very complicated.  It is important to check the following site characteristics before selecting or planting your tree:

Soil Condition - Soil provides trees with physical support, water, mineral elements (sometimes called nutrients), and oxygen for the roots. Certain properties, such as soil pH (alkalinity or acidity), drainage, density or compaction, texture, salinity, and structure affect a soil’s ability to provide these benefits to trees.

Cold or Heat Tolerance/Agricultural Hardiness ZoneYou may wonder why some trees are found in the Southern parts of the United States and others in the Northern parts of the United States. This is because trees have different tolerances to year round temperature.  This is called a Plant Hardiness Zone. Southern Illinois is in Zones 6a-7a. Central Illinois is in Zones 5a-6a. Northern Illinois is in Zones 5a-5b.

Shade Tolerance - Trees like people have different tolerances to the sun. Some trees such as Bur Oak, Cottonwood, willows and others are sun loving trees or shade intolerant. Red buds on the other had are shade tolerant. They can tolerant shady sites.  Other trees are partially shade tolerant meaning that they prefer a site that has light half of the day and shade the other half.

Moisture Needs - Not all trees demand the same amount of water. Some trees will only grow in boggy areas while others prefer drier uphill sites.

Pest Resistance - Native trees and selected Cultivars are often more resistance to insect and disease problems.  In an urban setting however, trees are often placed in a more stressful environment. Stressed trees are often much more susceptible to pest attack and damage.

Mature Size of the Tree -  The growth rate and mature size of the tree are important especially in the presence of utility lines.  The mature height and canopy spread is often overlooked in selecting a tree and planting site. Jsut because it fits now does not mean it will fit there in 25 years.  Trees too close to housed can't develop roots on one side and are more subject to wind throw. Trees with a tall (50 foot) mature height and 25 foot spread that are planted too close to a utility line can be a part of a storm outage issue as they grow.


These site and tree characteristics should be kept in mind when selecting a tree for planting. You can further help your municipality by selecting a tree that is not abundant already in your community. Most communities with Tree City USA designation have a species diversity goal.  They want to plant no more than 30% or 20% of one family; 10-20% of one Species and not more than 5-10% of one genus,  Talk with your local forester and see how you can help diversify your community forest.


Here are some Tree Species lists that might help you select a tree:

American Nursery Association Standards

Chicago Regional Tree Initiative Nursery Tree Inventory - A nursery guide listed by tree species. 

Morton Arboretum Selecting and Planting Trees

USDA Forest Service Tree Replacement Table



Tree Location Guidelines
The Right Tree for the Right Place - TCU Bulletin web link from Arbor Day Foundation


 Tree Planting Instructions

Selecting the tree and planting site is half the battle.  Give your tree the best chance of survival possible by planting it correctly.  Many trees have died by being planted too deeply. Remember to water and mulch your tree after planting.

How to Plant Trees - USDA FS

Tree Planting - ISA

Proper Tree Mulching - ISA

Tree Planting Standards - IDNR