“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.”
― Khalil GibranSand and Foam

A tree poem in April is written in bountiful blossoms. Cherries, plums, and magnolias are blooming profusely, showing off their spring-time beauty. This time of the year you may find yourself lured by the thought of capturing a bit of spring of your own, this Arbor Day.

Are you thinking about a cherry for Arbor Day?
Are you thinking about a cherry for Arbor Day?

While there is certainly a place for flowering specimen trees, before selecting a perfect tree for your home consider the attributes of a tree over the course of four seasons, not just one, and think about the tree you select in the long term.

The beautiful flowers of a cherry or purple-leaf plum last for a couple weeks in the spring. The rest of the year these trees are prone to various insect and disease problems that degrade the aesthetics of the tree and may be costly to treat. Plus, cherries need large rooting areas, since they are particularly noted for large aggressive roots that can wreak havoc on adjacent sidewalks.

If you are looking for a long-term fixture in your landscape, remember that most flowering trees are smaller-growing (less than 25’ tall at maturity) and have significantly shorter life spans than medium- to large-growing trees. At 25 years of age, a northern red oak will just be starting to enter maturity while a cherry or plum, if it survives that long, will be entering old age and declining.

Smaller-growing trees provide significantly fewer benefits, too. For example, using the National Tree Benefits Calculator, a Kwanzan cherry tree that is ten-inches in diameter (a pretty big cherry) will provide $33 per year in economic and environmental benefits while a northern red oak the same diameter (a fairly young tree) provides $106 per year in benefits. The oak, once it becomes middle aged with a diameter of 25 inches, will provide about three times as many benefits: $334.

All things considered, a medium- to large-growing tree is a better bang for your benefit buck. But if you just can’t resist and decide a small flowering tree is exactly the tree you need to have, make the decision with a good understanding of the tree’s year-long attributes, growth patterns, and special maintenance needs.

For more information about the benefits of large versus small trees follow this link.

For more information about selecting trees, check out ‘PLAN-ting Trees’ in this issue of Tree Link.

A magnolia tree in flower. Photo: JG Katz
A magnolia tree in flower. Photo: JG Katz