Forest Stewardship: Backyard Trees

Backyard trees are not just a beautiful addition to your property; they also offer numerous benefits to both landowners and communities. Trees help improve air and water quality, prevent soil erosion, and save homeowners money by moderating extreme temperatures. Additionally, trees increase property values and make neighborhoods more visually appealing. At Tips Tree Planting, we believe in the importance of understanding the values that backyard trees provide and how to choose, plant, and care for them effectively.

The Values Provided by Backyard Trees

When classifying forest values, we often consider environmental, economic, and aesthetic factors. Surprisingly, our backyard trees provide us with the same benefits as forest trees. Let’s explore the values of backyard trees in terms of the environment, economy, and aesthetics.

Environmental Values of Backyard Trees

Backyard trees offer numerous environmental benefits. They improve air and water quality, prevent erosion, and moderate temperatures. By nurturing trees on our own properties, we not only improve environmental conditions for ourselves but also for our neighbors. A municipality that cares for trees becomes an environmentally healthier place to live and work.

One significant environmental benefit of trees is their ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Through photosynthesis, trees convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugars. This process helps reduce the levels of carbon dioxide in the air, which is essential for mitigating global climate change. Moreover, trees can make our air cleaner by trapping and holding dust particles, thus improving the quality of the air we breathe.

Water flow, water quality, and erosion

Trees play a vital role in maintaining healthy water supplies and soil. They help combat soil erosion by intercepting raindrops with their leaves and limbs, reducing the impact on the ground surface. Tree roots also hold soil particles in place, preventing erosion. Furthermore, through a process called transpiration, trees release water vapor into the atmosphere, regulating precipitation rates and quantities. The organic layer created by fallen leaves and debris helps water percolate through the soil, removing impurities in the process. These water regulation mechanisms are crucial for maintaining healthy water supplies and preventing flooding.

Climate and energy

Trees can significantly impact local temperatures. Urban areas often experience higher temperatures due to heat-absorbing materials like steel, concrete, and asphalt. These areas, known as “urban heat islands,” can be mitigated by trees and green space. Planting the right species of trees in the right places can reduce daily temperatures in cities during hot summer days, resulting in energy savings for homeowners. In fact, proper tree placement can reduce air conditioning use by 30 percent and heating energy by 20 to 50 percent. This not only benefits the environment but also provides economic advantages.

Economic Values of Trees

Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service have found that healthy, mature trees can increase property values by up to 15 percent. They also contribute to the economic stability of municipalities by attracting progressive people and businesses. Tree-lined streets are visually appealing and encourage people to spend more time in those areas. Homes in wooded communities rent and sell faster, and tenants tend to stay longer. In addition to economic advantages, trees also improve health and well-being. Patients with views of trees and green spaces have shorter hospital stays and require less pain medication. The presence of healthy trees in a neighborhood can reduce violent crime and instill a sense of community pride and togetherness.

Aesthetic Value of Trees

Trees enhance the beauty of our surroundings by softening the appearance of hard surfaces and straight lines. They provide privacy and a connection to nature for urban and suburban dwellers. Trees also create natural areas for birds and other animals, adding to the enjoyment of nature. Furthermore, trees can reduce noise pollution by absorbing, reflecting, and masking unpleasant sounds.

The aesthetic value of trees extends beyond visual appeal. Trees have a positive impact on our well-being, reducing psychological stress associated with living in metropolitan areas. They help create a sense of relaxation and contribute to a greater sense of community spirit and pride. Trees foster a healthier and more attractive environment for everyone to enjoy.

Basic Needs for Growth and Survival

Trees, like all living organisms, require specific conditions to establish, grow, and survive. These basic requirements include fertile soil, sufficient space for root and canopy growth, air circulation, adequate water, suitable sunlight, temperature regulation, and protection from disease, insects, and injury. Understanding these needs is essential for successfully planting and caring for backyard trees.


Soil plays a crucial role in the growth and development of trees. It provides nutrients, air, water, stability, and protection from extreme temperatures. Different tree species have varying soil preferences, so it’s essential to understand the pH and composition of your soil when selecting trees for planting. Loam, a mixture of sand, silt, and clay, is generally the most suitable soil for optimal tree growth. It allows for proper drainage and root development.

Soil compaction, often caused by heavy equipment or foot traffic, can inhibit root growth by reducing pore size and water and nutrient availability. Compacted soil is also more difficult for roots to penetrate, leading to poor growth and a weaker root system. To maintain healthy soil conditions, it’s important to avoid compaction and create a loose, porous organic layer at the soil’s surface through the use of mulch.


Providing enough space for a tree’s roots and canopy is crucial for its overall health and growth. Large trees require more soil and space for root growth, while smaller trees can thrive in more confined areas. Consider the mature size of a tree before planting it, ensuring that it has ample room for both above and below-ground growth. Additionally, planting trees in appropriate locations, such as avoiding utility lines, will prevent the need for excessive pruning and maintain the tree’s natural form.

Air and Water

Air and water are essential for a tree’s survival. They provide the necessary gasses and hydration for metabolic processes like photosynthesis and respiration. Adequate air circulation ensures the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen, while sufficient water availability allows for nutrient uptake and overall hydration. Proper drainage is crucial, preventing waterlogged soils that can suffocate roots and lead to root rot.


Sunlight is vital for photosynthesis, the process that provides trees with energy for growth and development. Different tree species have different light requirements, with some thriving in full sun and others preferring shade. Understanding the light conditions in your yard and selecting trees accordingly will ensure their success.


Extreme temperatures can cause stress, damage, and even death in trees. Understanding a tree’s hardiness, or its ability to withstand extreme temperatures, is crucial when selecting species for planting. Matching a tree’s hardiness to your planting location will help ensure its long-term survival and growth.

Protection from Injury

Protecting trees from injury is essential for their overall health and well-being. Avoiding improper pruning practices, such as topping, is crucial. Topping trees can lead to structural problems, decay, and even death. Care should also be taken to prevent damage from landscaping activities, animal waste, and pollutants that can harm roots, trunks, and limbs.

Selecting, Planting, and Caring for Backyard Trees

To ensure the successful growth and longevity of your backyard trees, it’s crucial to select the right trees for your specific objectives and planting site. Consider what you want to achieve with your trees, such as shade, privacy, or aesthetic appeal. Evaluate your planting site’s characteristics, including soil, space, sunlight, and potential obstacles like utility lines or impervious surfaces.

Once you’ve determined your objectives and assessed your planting site, it’s time to select the appropriate tree species. Consider factors such as mature size, canopy form, flowers and fruits, fall color, growth rate, root characteristics, tolerance to insects and diseases, and suitability to your site’s conditions. Choosing the right tree species for the right place is crucial for its successful growth and minimal maintenance needs.

Planting trees correctly is essential for their establishment and long-term health. Dig a hole that is at least five times the diameter of the root ball and as deep as the root ball. Gently backfill the hole, watering occasionally to eliminate air pockets. Mulch around the tree to retain moisture and prevent weed growth. Water newly planted trees deeply, allowing the soil to dry out between watering.

Caring for backyard trees includes annual inspections to identify signs of stress, disease, or pest infestations. Pruning young trees slowly during the first five years promotes balanced growth and structural integrity. Mature trees should be pruned using thinning cuts, removing no more than 25 percent of foliage in a year. Hiring a certified arborist is recommended for complex pruning tasks and professional advice.

Additional Resources

At Tips Tree Planting, we understand the importance of providing high-quality information and resources to help you become a successful tree steward. In addition to our services, we recommend consulting certified arborists, your local Extension Office, and the National Arbor Day Foundation for further guidance. They can assist you with technical information, tree appraisals, tree health care, and community involvement in tree planting projects.

Remember, planting and caring for backyard trees is a rewarding experience that benefits not only you but also the environment and your community. By following these guidelines and investing in the well-being of your trees, you can enjoy their beauty and reap the many benefits they provide for years to come.

For more tree planting and care tips, visit Tips Tree Planting.

Prepared by Tips Tree Planting, based on a publication by William F. Elmendorf, Shelby E. Chunko, and Rance Scott Harmon from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences.