Can we speak frankly? We’re friends, right? This is an issue that I encounter a lot:
A lot of folks are thinking too small when it comes to their trees. It’s a common occurrence: I go out to meet with someone who’s picking out trees for their standard, 1/3 to 1/4 acre subdivision lot. We talk about options, and I give a couple of recommendations, and they ask me “how big is that going to get?” When I tell them it’ll want to grow to about 30-35′ (for example), they’re aghast. “That’s too big!” they say, “I have a small yard!”
Now, I understand some hesitation, and worrying about causing a problem down the road. Just last week I met with a homeowner in a ten year old gated community that could be the setting for a horror movie about trees eating houses. If you plant a river birch eight feet off the corner of your house, yes, you will have problems. Obviously you need to know what a plant wants to grow up to be before you specify it.
It’s a question of scale. In the interest of research, I took a walk around downtown Culpeper and took some photos of some really pretty yards. These yards are what I would consider welcoming, in large part because the trees are proportional to the house.
If you own a newer home, odds are good your house is 35 feet tall at the peak (typical county maximum) and sits on a fairly flat lot. If we use a tree that tops out at 10-15 feet tall (which is what a lot of people seem to think they want at first), it’s never going to look right- the tree will always be underscaled. The house won’t feel as much a part of the landscape, because there’s no balance.
On the other hand, if we introduce some trees into the landscape that are proportional to the house, then the landscaping and the house become more of a unit. The trick is making sure that you’re allowing the tree enough space to do its thing. Bigger may not always be better, but smaller can just be silly. If you’re worried about making the right choice, buy from a reputable local garden center with knowledgeable staff, or find yourself a good landscape designer. We’re all in business to make your home look better.