Invest in Your Home’s Future by Growing Trees

Filed in Gardening by on May 24, 2014

Two Ancient Oaks growing in my parents’ front yard fell on hands of time. My father was beside himself. He pruned and watered and fertilized, but the oaks had come to the end of their natural life – they had to be cut down. 

On my next trip home, my father proudly pointed to two small oaks he’d planted in the front yard. “I won’t be around to see these full-grown,” he said, “but someone will.” A year and a half later, at age 85, he died. 

As I was packing up my parents’ house to sell. I looked at the front window and saw those two little oaks. I thought about my father and how he’d invested in the future. Not his, but a homeowner to come and, most probably, more than one.

two oak treesI think of that experience now as I talk to Andrew Swedberg. Andrew, his father, Timothy, and grandmother, Eunice, are all part of the family-owned and operated Swedberg Nursery located outside Battle Lake.

Although the nusery sells bedding plants, perennials and shrubs, the Swedbergs specialize in trees. The nursery has more than 60 acres in production, hundreds of container trees and, during early spring, some bare root stock.

The fact that Swedberg specializes in trees is why I’m talking with Andrew. Trees are an important part of the home landscape, but trees not suited to a northern climate or a smaller lot are sometimes not such a great investment. I ask Andrew to choose hardy, well-mannered trees from among the many he sells that wood serve homeowners well and fill different niches in the home landscape.

firefall mapleShade Trees – Andrew’s selection ‘Firefall’ Freeman maple, the newest tree release from the University of Minnesota. This maple is a result of a cross between a cut-leaf silver maple and an earlier University red maple introduction, ‘Autumn Spire.’ ‘Firefall’ has deep cut leaves and bright red-orange fall color that turns earlier in the season than other maples.

The upright oval shade tree is sun-loving, hardy to Zone 3 and seedless – a real boon in the home landscape. This fast-growing tree will achieve a mature size of 50 feet high and 35 feet wide.

Like all shade trees, ‘Firefall’ would serve well in the home landscape as a specimen tree, in a row planting to create a maple alley along a drive or as seasonal climate control where it shelters a house from hot summer sun but allows sunlight through bare branches during winter months.

Ornamental Trees – Malus ‘Pink Spires,’ a flowering crabapple, is Andrew’s pick for an ornamental tree. It’s one of the hardiest of the flowering crabs (hardy to Zone 3) and malus pink spires 1features early and long bloom. The crabapple’s dark lavender buds open to lavender-pink flowers followed by redish-maroon foliage changing to a coppery color in the fall.

With its semi-weeping, spreading form and a mature size of 15-20 feet high by 12 feet wide, ‘Pink Spires’ creates an attractive accent in the small landscape. The tree is not only an asset during spring and summer, but its persistent purplish-red fruit, slightly larger than cherries, adds fall and winter interest to the landscape and provides food for birds. It requires full sun.

Evergreen Trees – Few would consider a northern landscape complete without one or two evergreens to add color to the winter landscape. Andre’s choice for the evergreen tree category is the Black Hills spruce (picea glauca var, densata). black hills spruceAlthough this spruce can reach heights of 40-50 feet and a spread of 25-30 feet, it is somewhat slow growing and will work well in the home landscape, given some attention to tree placement.

Many characteristics make the Black Hills spruce an attractive consideration for planting: It is widely adaptable to different soil conditions, can be grown in full to partial sun, has a lovely pyramid form (Christmas tree shape) and, perhaps most importantly, is resistant to winter burn. It is hardy to Zone 3.

Evergreen trees serve a number of functions in the landscape beyond adding a touch of green to the white of winter. They can be used as screening along a property border to block a view or create privacy. Evergreens also serve as a good background for other plants, causing flowers, berries and leaves of ornamental trees and shrubs to “pop.”

dakota pinnacle birchBirch – One of the trees Andrew is most enthusiastic about is one that did not fit neatly into any category. But what Minnesota landscape is complete without a bird? The Dakota Pinnacle Asian White Birch (Betula platyphylla ‘Fargo’) is a North Dakota State University introduction, hardly to Zone 3. The most striking feature is its columnar to narrowly pyramidal growth habit.

The Pinnacle birch’s yellow fall color slightly exfoliating off-white bark make this tree equally attractive as a boulevard tree, in a planting mound or integrated into a landscape border. A relatively small size at maturity – 35-40 feet high by 8 feet wide – will make it an attractive addition to the home landscape.

I ask Andrew as we close, “What advice do you have for planting trees?” He hesitates only a moment: 1) think about location and consider the mature size of the tree; 2) don’t plant too deep – soil should be just above the flare root; 3) apply 3-4 inches of mulch after planting, which will keep roots cool, and mulch to the drip line, keeping mulch away from the tree trunk and; 4) don’t forget to water.

Choose appropriate trees for the home landscape, follow Andrew’s tree-planting advice and you, too, will be making an investment in your home’s future.

by Reba Gilliand, a Master Gardener in West Otter Tail County 

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