The Q&A Archives: Kind of trees, aesthetics, and best place for growth

Question: I have a 'large' back yard, ~88 feet deep to the corner, shaped almost like a square but with smooth curves at the corners. Beyond the back yard are our neighbors-3 homes surrounding a cul-de-sac. We want serenity, beauty, and a little privacy. The back yard has a lower level as you get near the border, where it is most wet. There has been a suggestion of clusters of trees in beds of 3 different types-plum, red maple, yoshini cherry (this away from the most wet area). The other suggestion was alternating black gums,3, with another variety of tree. We will probably move after 5 years. We want to enjoy the yard, but don't want to pay a mint for large trees. I hope this is not too complicated. Thanks.

Answer: Based on your description, I would suggest using a far more limited number of trees so they have ample space to grow and mature over time. Yoshino cherry is not a small tree and it requires a well drained soil; the ornamental plums tend to be disease prone -- and also require a well drained soil. The red maples can make a nice shade tree but do grow very large. You might use a red maple such as Acer rubrum October Glory (keep in mind it will reach 40 to 50 feet tall and wide) and as a flowering tree, perhaps a swamp magnolia for example. These will grow in damp to wet soil but also do well enough in average soil. Keep in mind when you plant them that you need to allow clearance for underground and above ground utilities, buildings, and so on. Then to create interest now while the trees are young and small, use some shrubs that tolerate a wetter area such as Itea, Clethra, and Ilex glabra to add interest and privacy. Also keep in mind that you will achieve more privacy faster by planting closer to your viewing spot than you will by planting back at the property line. So if for example you have a deck or patio area to shield, consider planting a shrub island style bed or border with a small tree (such as a smaller variety of weeping ornamental cherry or a smaller growing disease resistant crabapple such as Sugar Tyme) next to the sitting area. This will give you an immediate result as opposed to waiting twenty years for the trees at the back of your property to grow and mature. Finally, planting larger trees does not always save you as much time as you might hope, because the larger the trunk diameter at planting the longer the tree takes to become rooted and re-established and begin to grow in size again.

Here is some information about the magnolia and maple I mentioned.

Your local county extension and/or professionally trained and certified nurseryman may have other or additional suggestions based on a more detailed understanding of the planting area and your design goals. To help them to help you, a rough sketch of the area including measurements and compass directions as well as a few photos to show panoramic views would probably be helpful. Good luck with your trees!

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