Trees and shrubs add color and texture to your home landscape. They provide shade, act as a barrier against wind, and help prevent soil erosion in addition to the beauty they contribute. Although the benefits of trees and shrubs are myriad, before bringing home a tree or shrub, it is important to consider the needs of the plant and whether you can provide it in your yard.
Before selecting a tree or shrub, you should consider what you hope to add to your landscape by planting it. Perhaps you want a small shrub to fill in a gap in your garden, or maybe you want a tree that will help block cold winter winds. When searching for possible shrubs or trees, consider how well their growth habit and characteristics fit your needs. For example, evergreens work well as year-round sound barriers, while the University of Missouri Extension recommends trees such as cedar and pine for windbreaks.
One of the most important specifications to keep in mind when choosing a tree or shrub is size. The Arbor Day Foundation recommends considering not only height but also spread and shape, both of which can affect the room a particular tree needs to grow. The same is true of shrubs, which can have considerable size ranges and different pruning needs.
Different plants also have different preferences in terms of soil. Some require a well-drained site where water will not sit around their roots, while others, such as the weeping willow, do well on soggy sites. Some have special pH specifications, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, which need an acidic soil. Be sure to research the needs of your plants before purchase and have your soil tested to determine the conditions of the site you've chosen. The Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends testing drainage by filling a hole the size of the planting hole with water. If less than an inch drains per hour, you will need to improve drainage or select a water-tolerant species.
Trees and shrubs also have specifications about light needs: full sun, partial sun or shade. Be sure that you select varieties appropriate for the site you've chosen. Also consider the time of day plants will be exposed to sunlight in partially shaded sites--afternoon sunlight is harsher than morning light--and wind exposure. Some plants are unable to survive the climate or conditions of particular regions. For example, magnolias generally need warmer climates, while spruce like cold, northern climates. Learn the hardiness zone of the tree or shrub you are considering before planting it.
Different species grow at different rates, which may also affect their suitability for your needs and site. For example, poplars grow quickly but have short lives, making them an ideal tree for a quick screen while you wait for slower-growing trees to replace them.