Right Plant, Right Place
To choose such a specimen, let’s start with what you like (or don’t like) about trees: Do colorful flowers transport you, or do you resent having to wash them off your car’s windshield? Do you swoon with delight upon smelling a magnolia flower, or does it make you sneeze? Is leaf-raking an autumn ritual you relish, or would you rather go to the gym for your workout? What about growing fruit to eat or to attract birds? And of course there are practical matters, like shading your kitchen window from the blasting summer sun or blocking the view of your neighbor’s trash bins. It’s also crucial to assess the conditions you can offer a prospective tree: soil type, available moisture, possible root competition, microclimates, and any potential hazards from heavy foot traffic, vandalism, or deer. Once you’ve determined the inherent characteristics of your space, it’s time to carefully consider your options.
There are seemingly endless arboreal possibilities at local nurseries, in catalogs, and in books—so do as much research as you can before choosing. Take a look at Dirr’s Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Michael Dirr (Timber Press, 2002) for some good ideas. Local designer and nurseryman Sean Hogan’s new book, Trees for All Seasons, due out this November, lists hundreds of evergreen trees suitable for our region. Also, compare trees at friendsoftrees.org/arboretum, which lists trees grown in the Ainsworth Linear Arboretum, a two-mile stretch of NE Ainsworth Street between NE MLK Jr. Boulevard and Fernhill Park that is planted with 57 tree species.
Some of these trees are better for our region than others. For instance, if you want a tree that requires no supplemental summer water once established, pick an Oregon white oak rather than a Stewartia, which would ultimately perish in a dry area. Or, if you plan to water the area where the tree will be located, try something that will improve the region’s tree diversity (like a crape myrtle or Eucryphia) instead of adding yet another maple or flowering cherry to Portland’s urban canopy.
For the most adventurous method of tree selection, explore local boutique nur-series (download our guide to Willamette Valley nursery tours at portlandspaces.net/tours). These homegrown plant nurseries often display a range of interesting trees in their gardens (and sell them, too), including underutilized Southern Hemisphere and Asian trees that do well with varying degrees of supplemental summer water, and some West Coast natives that thrive naturally in our summer drought and winter wet.