Selecting the Right Tree Shape for Your Space
- Author Don Milne
- Published December 8, 2019
- Word count 1,073
Whether you’re planting a new tree from scratch, or replacing a sick or damaged tree, the type of tree you choose will have a profound impact on the appearance of your property, including the potential boost in value and overall quality of your life.
There are many types of trees to choose from, and which one is right for you will come down to a few key factors:
• Why do you want to plant a new tree? For enhanced security, privacy, or shade from the sun? Or a combination of all three?
• What type of soil do you currently have, and which types of trees are best suited for that soil?
• Do you plan to expand or renovate the nearby property in the near future? For example, a ground floor extension or a second storey addition?
• How much surrounding space do you have to plant the tree? How big can you expect the tree to grow?
• How much time do you have to maintain the tree? If you plant a tree that is at risk of spreading to unwanted areas, you will have to prune and trim the tree on a regular basis, or pay an arborist to do it for you.
• Which type of tree will best complement the look and feel of the existing property?
Choosing the right tree shape.
Aside from these key factors, the shape of the tree will also determine whether the tree is suitable for your outdoor space.
When it comes to the shape of a tree, the two most important details are the height and spread. Plant a tree that grows too high, and you’ll have to pay an arborist to climb it and maintain the tall branches. Plant a tree that spreads too wide, and you could have tree limbs that obstruct foot traffic, grow dangerously close to nearby powerlines and property, block the scenic view, and become a real nuisance for your neighbours. Neither of these scenarios are ideal!
Fortunately, by choosing a tree shape that complements the surrounding area, your beautiful new tree will be easy to maintain, blend in effortlessly with your home, and provide both you and future generations a lifetime of beauty, comfort, and joy.
What kind of tree shapes are there? Quite a lot, and different types of tree species’ produce different shapes. So it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the kind of shapes that each tree species is capable of growing into.
To help you choose the right tree for your space, here’s a brief description of each shape, and the most common species that produce these shapes.
Just like real columns, columnar trees are relatively tall and thin, and their branches grow in an upright fashion at a slight angle. Due to their slim shape and the upward nature of the branches, columnar trees can be planted fairly close to each other while taking up very little ground space.
Examples of columnar trees: Columnar maple and peach, Dawyck gold beech, Leyland cypress, and Lombardy poplar.
Pyramidal (or Conical)
Think of a traditional Christmas tree, and you get the idea as to what this tree looks like. These trees are wider at the bottom and their horizontal branches gradually become shorter as they reach the top, resulting in a distinctively ‘pointy’ end.
Due to their wide spread at the bottom, pyramidal trees need a decent amount of ground space in order to reach their full width.
Examples of pyramidal trees: Liquidamber, bald cypress, dawn redwood, and ginkgo biloba.
Spreading (or Open shaped)
Spreading trees spread their branches out wide in a fairly consistent manner from top to bottom. It is common for spreading trees to be wider than they are tall, so they require a lot of surrounding space to reach their full width.
On top of this, the branches almost always spread out horizontally, resulting in a tree shape similar to a garden bush or shrub.
Examples of Spreading trees: Beech, Eastern red cedar, honey locust, hornbeam, oak, and larch.
Irregular trees have branches that grow in an unpredictable manner. Some have short, stumpy branches at the bottom, which become longer and more unwieldly as they climb the trunk. Others have a wide-reaching spread at the bottom, which becomes more narrow and condensed near the top. Furthermore, the gap between each level of branches can vary as well.
There’s no strict formula to define the structure of an irregular tree. Their growth behaviour is just too unpredictable. For the most part, though, irregular trees do have a combination of both short and long branches. Of course, the way in which the branches grow is ultimately left up to chance.
Examples of irregular trees: Buckeye, catalpa, hickory, pawpaw, silver maple, and smoke tree.
Round (or Oval shaped)
By far the most basic shape, round trees often give off the appearance of a lollipop. Of course, not all round trees grow into a uniform sphere. Variations of round trees can be slightly wider or taller than a complete circle, but their overall shape most closely resembles that of a circle or an oval.
Examples of round trees: Jacaranda, Ohio buckeye, red maple, white ash, and red oak.
Characterised by branches that droop in a downward motion, the leaves of the weeping tree dangle gently from each individual limb, resulting in a ‘cascading waterfall’-like motion that instantly catches the eye.
For this reason, weeping trees are a great companion tree to have alongside more narrow, rigid trees, as it helps provide a sense of contrast and direct the eyes to a marvellous centrepiece.
Best of all? Weeping trees come in many shapes and sizes. So it’s easy to find a species that perfectly fits your outdoor space.
Examples of Weeping trees: Camperdown elm, weeping birch, crabapple, eastern white pine, and fig.
Think of this shape as a ‘reverse’ Christmas tree. Skinny on the bottom, wide and voluptuous as the branches climb to the top. As a result, you end up with a tree that forms a distinctive ‘V’ shape.
Due to the upward nature of the branches, they can be planted relatively close to each other and they take up very little ground space. So you can enjoy plenty of shade and sit under the tree on a gentle summer’s day.
Examples of vase shaped trees: Common hackberry, amur maple, Japanese zelkova, and golden rain trees.
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