Best Trees for Growing in Lawns
Trees for Lawns
Article by Thomas Ogren
In order to be a good tree to grow in a lawn it needs a number
of things going for it. In particular a good lawn tree:
- Should be deciduous, meaning it should loose all of its leaves
in the winter. This will let in light in the wintertime, when
light levels are lowest. Deciduous trees also do not block any
warming winter sunlight from reaching the house. Trees on the
south or east sides of any house should always be deciduous,
- Should have roots that do not creep upward
into the lawn where they'll be hit by lawnmowers. Roots that
grow up into the lawn are a real pain, hard to get rid of, and
will easily ruin a lawnmower.
- Should be attractive, or why
else even plant it?
- Should be fairly easy to grow, not too
fussy. Always select trees that are know to be disease
- Should be able to adapt to the irrigation a lawn
will receive. Certain trees grow well in lawns and others, such
as oaks, do not. Plant lawn trees that will thrive in a lawn
area, even if it is frequently irrigated.
- Should be a type of
tree that will not have a negative allopathic effect on the
lawn. For example, eucalyptus or walnut trees produce a
substance that kills off other plants below them.
produce shade that is not too deep. No grass can grow in the
deepest shade. Branches on lawn trees should ideally be kept
- Should not produce a lot of allergenic pollen.
There's no point in planting a tree that will make you sick
- No lawn tree will grow well when it is young if the grass
is allowed to grow right up to its trunk! I can't stress this
enough. A young tree in a lawn should have an area underneath it
that is kept totally grass-free for the first 4-5 years of the
tree's growth. If lawn is permitted to grow right next to the
trunk of a young tree, the tree's growth will almost always be
stunted. Even after this period of time it is better to either
keep the area immediately under the tree grass-free, or to plant
a low-growing groundcover under it.
- Trunks of young trees should never be hit with weedwackers. String- trimmers ruin the tender
bark of many young lawn trees, and then stunt their subsequent
growth. Keep a clean area a minimum of 3' wide under any new lawn
- Even though a lawn has shallow roots and there is little
point in watering lawns much deeper than a foot, trees will
develop deep roots. To make sure your new tree grows those deep,
drought resistant roots, give it a really good soaking once a
month from spring until fall. Just put a garden hose near the
base of the tree, turn it on low, and let it soak for a long
- Watch mulch around the trunks of young trees! Mulching
trees is a good idea but keep the mulch a few inches away from
the actual trunk of the young tree. In the wintertime,
especially where there is snow cover, it is a darn good idea to
put a wrap of 1/4 inch mesh chicken wire around the trunk, to keep
mice and rabbits from eating the tender young bark. Many a new
tree is killed because of wintertime damage to the trunk from
- If you live in an area where the winter temperatures
get below zero F, it is a good idea to paint the trunks of new
lawn trees white. The white paint will reflect the winter sun,
and will keep the sap from warming up and starting to flow in
the middle of winter. Painted trees are much less likely to get
"winter sun scald," which is what they call it when the bark
cracks and splits open, usually on the south side of the trunk.
Use indoor grade white latex paint for this, and it is perfectly
okay too, to paint some of the larger branches. This painting
can be repeated each fall with good effect until the tree is
about 7-8 years old. As the trees mature their bark will thicken
and toughen up, and will naturally be more resistant to freezing
and the winter sun.
- Make sure to fertilize the new trees twice
each season. Use a fertilizer high in N, nitrogen, in the
springtime, and a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in
potassium in the fall.
Lawn grass that grows under trees may
well need a bit of extra fertilizer through the growing season,
as the tree roots will absorb much of the lawn fertilizer as
well. There are devices with long, hollow spikes on them that
screw on the end of a hose. You put the fertilizer for the tree
in these contraptions, shove the spike down deep into the tree's
root zone, and turn on the hose. This is a good way to fertilize
- Existing trees and planting new lawns: Many a nice lawn tree has been killed when the owner decides to plant a new
lawn, and hauls in extra topsoil to spread. If you cover the
roots of a tree with several inches of additional soil, you may
easily smother the tree roots, killing the tree. If the soil
around an existing tree needs to be raised, then you need to
build a "tree well," an area around the tree, at least four feet
wide, where the original soil level is maintained. This is
especially important with oak trees, which will quickly die if
the soil level is raised right up to the trunk.
- Manure and lawn trees: Never put manure right up to the trunk of a lawn tree.
Fresh manure in particular is especially toxic to young trees. I
have seen some pretty nice, large trees killed when their owners
mulched them with a thick layer of supposedly "well-cured" horse
manure. Even with compost, don't place it right next to the
trunk of the tree!
Twenty-five Recommended Trees for your Lawn:
1.Red Maple 'Autumn Glory': Zones 3-9. a large, rounded,
handsome female, pollen-free tree, loses its leaves, easy to
grow in bluegrass lawns. Great fall color.
2.Red maple ''October Glory': Zones 3-9 a female, pollen-free tree, does especially
well in lawns and does not cast a deep lawn killing shade.
3.Red maple 'Bowhall,' Acer rubrum: 'Bowhall,' is an attractive,
pollen-free deciduous female tree, with excellent fall color. It
grows narrowly upright and is a good lawn tree for smaller
yards. Shade is not dense.
4.Crabapple 'Molten Lava,' Malus species: Zones 4-9. A smaller, very pretty, flowering crabapple
tree, to 10' tall, with great flowers in spring and small red
fruits in fall. Does fine in well-drained lawns, and is an
especially disease resistant tree.
5.Crabapple 'Dolgo, Malus 'dolgo': Zones 3-9, Pink buds open to fragrant, white flowers in
late spring. Glossy, dark green foliage turns yellow in the fall
and has good disease resistance. Large, almost florescent,
bright red fruit ripening in early summer is excellent for
crabapple jelly. A hardy tree with a spreading, upright and open
habit. Does well in bluegrass lawns.
6.Crabapple 'Red Splendour' Malus species: Zones 3-8. Greenish-red leaves with
rose-pink flowers. Small red fruit stays on the tree well in to
the winter. Good resistance to disease. An upright growing
smaller crabapple tree, good in lawns.
7.Crabapple 'Snowcloud': Zones 4-8, profuse double white flowers, mostly pollen-free and
fruitless, bright green leaves, smaller tree, to 20 feet tall.
Good in lawns.
8.Crabapple 'Sugar Tyme': Pale pink buds open to
fragrant, showy white blossoms that cover the tree in spring. A
bounty of small, persistent, bright red fruit are produced in
the fall and attract birds. This vigorous tree has crisp, dark
green leaves and an upright, oval habit. One of the most disease
resistant flowering crabapples. Good in lawns. To 20 feet tall.
9.Flowering plum, Prunus species: zones 4-10, a pretty, easy to
grow tree, loses its leaves in fall, flowers in the spring,
grows fast and likes frequent irrigations, as in a lawn. Shade
is not dense.
10.Apricot trees, Prunus species: Zones 4-10:
attractive, loses its leaves in fall, easy to grow in western
areas, blossoms smell great, and the fruit is good. Should be
pruned so that it is not difficult to mow under. Does not cast a
dense shade. Good fall color too.
11.Fuyu persimmon trees, Diospyros kaki: Zones 4-10: slow growing, very attractive bark
and leaves, shade not dense, fruit is beautiful, sweet and
excellent, tree is female and pollen-free. Incredible fall
12.Pineapple Guava tree, Feijoa sellowiana: Zones 8-10,
small evergreen tree. Best grown as a multi-trunked tree, to 18'
tall, gray-green attractive leaves, white-red flowers, sweet
green fruit. With age the tree becomes more and more attractive,
the bark ever more interesting.
13.Honeylocust trees, Gleditsia triacanthos: all Zones, a nice, medium-sized shade tree. Loses
its leaves in fall, grows well in lawns, and does not cast a
deep grass killing type of shade.
14.Variegated Box Elder, Acer negundo 'Variegata': an attractive, smaller three-leafed maple
tree, with beautiful variegated green and white leaves.
Deciduous, female and pollen-free, easy to grow, and does well
in lawns. Shade not dense.
15.Fringe tree, Chionanthus virginicus: Zones 5-10. If you can find one that has small black
fruits on it, then it is a pollen-free female tree, a much
desired lawn tree. Roots go down and stay down, foliage is very
attractive, leaves lost in winter, attractive, lightly fragrant
bright white flowers, grows well in lawns. Shade not dense.
16.Sourwood tree, Nyssa sylvatica: Zones 4-9. A small to
medium-sized lawn tree, deciduous, excellent fall color. Female
sourwood trees are pollen free; look for the exceptional
cultivar called 'Miss Scarlet,' which has no pollen, terrific
red fall color, and has attractive small ornamental blue fruit.
These trees thrive in acid soils and will not do well with
17.Japanese Raisin Tree, Hovenia dulcis: Zones
8'-10. The female trees have small, sweet, raisin-like fruit and
are pollen-free. Raisin trees have beautiful leaves, are
deciduous, grow well in lawns, and do not cast a deep shade.
18.Hardy Rubber Tree, Eucommia ulmoides: best in zones 5-7, is a
large shade tree that does not cast deep shade. If you can find
a fruiting tree, it will be female and pollen-free too. Roots
stay down and tree grows well in bluegrass lawns.
19.Pomegranate tree, Punica granatum: Zones 7-10, makes a beautiful, small lawn
tree if grown as either a single-trunked tree, or as a
three-trunked tree. Pomegranate thrives where summer heat is
high. Loses its leaves in fall, bright yellow fall color, shade
not dense, attractive orange flowers and red fruit. Will grow
well in a fescue, Bermudagrass, or St Augustine lawn.
20.Bougainvillea: Zones 9-10. Not normally thought of as a tree
at all, a bougainvillea can easily be trained into an unusual
and quite beautiful small lawn tree. The best way to do this is
to pound a strong 8' metal stake, several feet deep into the
ground, and then plant three one-gallon bougainvillea plants
around the stake. Trim the plants back to one or two of the
longest, most vigorous branches, and weave these up the stake.
It takes about a year to develop this into a tree form. Keep the
trunk leaf-free and shear the top several times a year for a
lollypop shape. Best cultivars for this are 'San Diego Red' or
the variegated 'Raspberry Ice' bougainvillea. There are some
fantastic bougainvillea trees at Disneyland.
21.Quaking Aspen, 'Pendula,' Populus tremuloides 'Pendula': grows in all Zones.
This is a medium-sized, pollen-free, female, weeping aspen tree,
very attractive, good fall color, easy to grow, and is fast
growing. Doesn't cast a deep shade and grows well in most lawns.
22. Black Poplar, 'Theves' Poplar, Populus nigra 'Afghanica' or P. n. 'thevestina': is an attractive, medium-sized, tall,
narrowly upright shade tree, winter hardy in all zones. 'Theves'
Poplar is female, pollen-free, and has bright yellow fall color.
Good in lawns where a narrow tree is needed.
23.'Noreaster' Poplar, Populus 'Noreaster': is a good, larger shade tree for
lawns. 'Noreaster' is a sterile female tree, so no seeds and no
pollen. Does well in most bluegrass lawns and is winter hardy in
even the coldest zones.
24.Japanese Paper Mulberry trees, Broussonetia kazinoki: are separate sexed and if you can find a
fruiting tree, it will be pollen-free. These do not cast deep
shade like most of the other mulberry species and will thrive in
lawns in most cool areas. Winter hardy zones in 5-9.
25.Paperbark maple, Acer griseum: Zones 4-8. This small to medium-sized maple
tree has exceptionally beautiful bark and is totally handsome at
all times of the year. Paperbark maple doesn't cast a deep shade
and lawn will grow quite well underneath it. Best in soils that
are well drained and slightly acidic.
About the author: Thomas Ogren is the author of Allergy-Free Gardening, Ten Speed
Press. Tom does consulting work on for the USDA, county asthma
coalitions, and the American Lung Associations. He has appeared
on CBS, HGTV and The Discovery Channel. His book, Safe Sex in
the Garden, was published 2003. In 2004 Time Warner Books
published his latest: What the Experts May NOT Tell You About:
Growing the Perfect Lawn. His website:
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