1. Life & Culture

Brandies: Be careful where you plant those 'little' trees

Published Mar. 24, 2017

If you make mistakes with annuals, perennials, or even shrubs, it is easy to fix the situation.

It is not so easy if you make a mistake with a tree. The fix can be costly.

I grew up in a house in Ohio surrounded with tall trees and with just about the right amount of shade and sun. It didn't seem the trees changed a bit. I must not have been watching.

I planted trees at almost every one of our nine homes since we were married and then we moved away before they grew very much. Two of those trees survived the tornado in Xenia, Ohio, in 1974 and they stand there today. The house we lived in did not survive.

A few of the trees we planted in Wilton, Iowa, in the '80s are still doing well, but some have been taken out for one reason or another.

So we were thrilled when we moved to Brandon to have one large oak tree and four small ones. We were told that trees grow much more quickly here, but we had no idea just how quick that could be or that we would still be in the same place for 30 years to see them grow.

I made more than a few mistakes, and mistakes with growing trees can be very expensive for tree trimming at the best and worse if the tree falls on a house or a car. We also soon found that we had more shade and less sun than we really wanted.

One big mistake was that the house came with a privacy fence all around the back yard, and we assumed that the seedling trees on the other side belonged to someone else. Or they may also belong to the county.

Before we knew it, they were large and shading much of our back yard. So I now tell people to be aware of what is growing just beyond their property, especially if it is not someone's yard. In such a case, it is wise to consult with the property owner before you go over there and prune away unwanted seedlings. And if you can't find anyone to ask, prune anyway.

I wish I had done that.

Don't plant any tree too near to your house, driveway, road or utility lines. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make. Most trees grow about as wide as they will high and their roots will spread much further. As a general rule, allow as much as 65 feet between tall spreading trees and at least 40 feet from your house. Leave 35 feet between columnar trees.

Watch out for those power lines. If you are planting right under them, use tall shrubs and prune them as you wish or need. If your tree grows into those lines, they will be cut out and you will lose the beauty of the natural shape.

Every tree drops something. Flowering trees drop more because both petals and fruit or seedpods are involved. Be sure trees over a driveway or walkway do not drop anything that you can slip on.

David loved palms so I bought him five nice 4-foot queen palms and he loved them. But I learned that I don't like any palm that gets higher than I can prune myself. Otherwise you either have to pay trimmers twice a year or have ugly palms.

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Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener and author of 12 gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture and is an alumni fellow from Temple University. She can be reached at Her website is