In the Garden: Trees for Tennessee

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Trees for Tennessee:
What you need to know

Tennessee is a wonderful place for trees! Bloom colors of yellow, white, pinks, and purples begin in early spring followed by the lush green of tall canopy trees. Native evergreens provide shelter year around for much of our wildlife. Many cultivars, native and borrowed from other countries, grow well in the Nashville area.

Trees are an investment in the future and sometimes live for hundreds of years, so there are a few things you need to consider.

Planting time: In Middle Tennessee, fall, winter and early spring are good times to plant. Wintertime conditions vary in our area. A few days below freezing are mixed with chilly to moderate rainy periods, and sometimes even a few 70° days. These conditions make winter and early spring a good time to plant trees. Digging is possible, since the deep ground is not frozen hard, rain is available to encourage root growth, and trees are resting in their dormant stage when their watering/feeding needs are less.

Trees do best if they have time to get established in cooler weather before the heat of summer hits.  
Choosing the right kind of tree for the right location: Choosing the right tree for the right space requires some planning. Matt Yates, director of operations for Turf Managers LLC, emphasizes, ”It’s always best to plant a tree in a sustainable location. Don’t plant a tree today where somebody will have to cut it down five years from now. Think about the end goal when choosing a tree. Are you looking for shade?

Flowers? Fall foliage? Privacy?“ The look, growth characteristics, foliage type, and mature size are all very important considerations. The location is also important. You probably won’t want a tree near a pool (dropping leaves or shedding blossoms into the pool), under electric wires (you or the electric company may be forced to top a tree planted inauspiciously), or near a driveway (no walnuts, acorns, or tree sap dropping on cars).  

So where do you start?  What do you plant? There are many choices, but here are some of my favorites. For trees planted in the sun for early spring flowers and color: Japanese Cherry “Yoshino” has beautiful branching and blooms white/pastel pink.  Japanese Cherry “Okame” and “Kwanzan” blooms are pink. 

Other trees planted in shade for early spring flowers and color might include: dogwood in white, pink, and red (deep pink) are forest natives; a relatively new cultivar of the native red bud tree  “Forest Pansy” will thrive in full sun or part shade. These are all relatively small trees but will still need room to spread out and reach their mature size.

For privacy and noise reduction: You need evergreens for privacy and noise reduction. Tall and wide evergreens like Leyland Cypress, Chinese cryptomeria, and the native Southern magnolia take up lots of room and grow tall. For yard borders where a narrower tree form is needed, consider Green Giant Arborvitae, Little Gem Magnolias, and Nellie R. Stevens Hollies. For narrow spaces such as next to a patio, driveway, or home foundation, emerald arborvitae and  degroots arborvitae (very narrow) work well.

For shade and spectacular fall color: Large leaf deciduous trees offer shade and fall color. Wide canopy red maple, sugar maple, and oak trees work well in large spaces. More narrow growing sweet gum and poplar fit in medium sized yards. For really small spaces, try Slender Silhouette Sweet Gum for a dramatic look.

To lower heating and cooling bills: Plant evergreens on the north side of your home to block cold winds in winter.  Plant deciduous trees on the south side to provide cooling shade in summer, and warmth in winter when they drop their leaves, letting in the southern sun.

To help the environment: All trees contribute to cleaner air. The larger the leaf and canopy,  the better. Trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen during photosynthesis.  According to a 2007 publication by the International Society of Arboriculture, it takes about 30 trees to provide enough oxygen for one person for a year. Clearly, trees are important to the health of our neighborhoods and our planet!
 —By Ann Jackson

Editor’s Note: Ann Jackson is director of sales, marketing, and creative interpretation for Turf Managers, LLC. in Nashville. An avid gardener, Ann is also a certified lawn and horticultural professional through the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and provides design services for commercial and residential landscapes and flower beds. E-mail your questions to her at

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