Choosing the tree location

There are three essential considerations when siting a tree:

  • Basic sun and moisture conditions

  • Available soil volume

  • Nearby obstacles

Sun and moisture conditions

It is critical to choose a tree species that is adapted to the amount of sun and moisture at the site. It is easy to overestimate the amount of sun in a given location - this should be measured as the number of hours of direct sun after the nearby trees have leafed out. Keep in mind that canopy trees create shade, but only a few of them can themselves grow in the shade. See the details on the Native Tree Choices page.

Available soil volume

Trees need 1.5 cubic feet of uncompacted soil for every square foot of mature tree canopy. This translates very roughly to about one third fewer square feet than the area of the expected canopy (the expectation being that your uncompacted soil may be at least two feet deep). With insufficient volume, as is often seen in parking lots, the tree's growth will be stunted and life expectancy greatly shortened.

For example: a White Oak's expected minimum canopy spread is 50 feet (radius 25 feet), therefore a canopy area of 3.14 x 25 x 25 = about 2000 square feet. If your soil is two feet deep, allow an area of 1/3 less than that, or about 1300 square feet. So for instance, a yard with 44 x 30 feet of space will do, though these are minimums and more would be better. Normally, many tree roots would spread well beyond the crown, and the soil in your lawn may be quite compacted, in which case you may need to double these allowances.

  • 50+ foot spread - allow at least 1300 square feet - White Oak, Swamp White Oak, Scarlet Oak, Northern Red Oak, Southern Red Oak, Chestnut Oak, Chinquapin Oak, Black Oak, American Sycamore, Shagbark Hickory

  • 40+ foot spread - allow at least 1100 square feet - Red Maple,  Hackberry, Sweetgum, River Birch, American Beech, Swamp Chestnut Oak, Pin Oak, Post Oak, Bitternut Hickory, Mockernut Hickory

  • 30+ foot spread - allow at least 600 square feet - Willow Oak, Shumard Oak, Black Willow, Tulip Poplar, Pitch Pine

  • 25+ foot spread - allow at least 410 square feet - Black gum, Flowering Dogwood, Redbud, Hophornbeam, American Persimmon, Sassafras, Green Hawthorn

  • 20+ foot spread  - allow at least 270 square feet - Virginia Pine, Shortleaf Pine, White Pine, Paw Paw,  American Hornbeam, American Holly, American Hornbeam, Blackjack Oak,

  • 15+ foot spread -  allow at least 150 square feet - Fringe Tree, Serviceberry, Eastern Red Cedar, Chickasaw Plum

  • 10+ foot spread - allow at least 70 square feet - Sweetbay Magnolia

  • 8+ foot spread - allow at least 45 square feet - American Plum

Trees and shrubs can share space

In fact, they do better when planted near each other, sharing resources and supporting each other. Trees can be planted 15 feet apart. Shrubs can be planted within 5 feet of trees.

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River Birch

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Tulip Poplar planted by George Washington

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It's too bad to see trees get mangled.

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Possumhaw (Viburnum prunifolium)

with Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea)

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Avoiding nearby obstacles

Houses - plant trees at least 15 feet away from buildings

Sidewalks - the roots of maples, willows and Sweetgum are more likely to damage sidewalks

Underground utilities - Call Miss Utility but be aware that there may be other underground pipes that they don't mark.

Never plant trees or shrubs within 5 feet of an underground power line.

Overhead wires -

Dominion's recommendations

  • 0-15 feet from the line: No trees. Shrubs under 20 feet tall at maximum growth.

  • 15-30 feet: Small trees allowed (20-45 feet, with the taller trees in this range recommended as you progress away from the power lines)

  • 30+ feet:  Large trees allowed.

NOVEC's recommendations

  • 0-25 feet from the line: Only shrubs and small trees under 15 feet at maximum growth. (There are many native shrubs but no native trees that stay this short.)

  • 20-50 feet: Under 40 foot trees

  • 50+ feet: Large trees allowed

  • Transformer boxes: Keep shrubs at least 10 feet away from transformer doors and 4 feet away from the sides.

Examples of NOVA native shrubs under 15 feet

  • Aronia arbutifolia  Red Chokeberry

  • Aronia melanocarpa  (Photinia melanocarpa) Black Chokeberry

  • Baccharis halimifolia  High Tide Bush, Groundsel Tree, Mullet Bush

  • Ceanothus americanus  New Jersey Tea, Redroot

  • Cephalanthus occidentalis  Buttonbush

  • Cornus amomum  Silky Dogwood

  • Cornus racemosa  Gray Dogwood

  • Eubotrys racemosus  Fetterbush, Swamp Dog Hobble

  • Euonymus americanus  Strawberry-bush, Heart’s-a-bustin’

  • Hydrangea arborescens  Wild Hydrangea, Smooth Hydrangea

  • Hypericum prolificum  Shrubby St. John's Wort

  • Ilex verticillata  Winterberry Holly

  • Itea virginica  Virginia Willow, Virginia Sweetspire

  • Kalmia latifolia  Mountain Laurel

  • Lindera benzoin Spicebush

  • Morella (Myrica) pensylvanica  Northern Bayberry

  • Physocarpus opulifolius  Ninebark

  • Rhododendron periclymenoides  Wild Azalea, Pinxter, or Pinxterbloom Azalea

  • Rhododendron prinophyllum  Early Azalea

  • Rhododendron viscosum  Swamp Azalea, Clammy Azalea

  • Rhus aromatica  Fragrant sumac

  • Rhus copallinum  Winged Sumac, Shining Sumac, Flameleaf Sumac

  • Rhus glabra  Smooth Sumac

  • Rosa carolina  Carolina Rose, Pasture Rose

  • Spiraea alba  Meadowsweet

  • Staphylea trifolia  Bladdernut

  • Vaccinium corymbosum  Highbush Blueberry, Northern Highbush Blueberry

  • Vaccinium pallidum  Early Lowbush or Blue Ridge Blueberry

  • Viburnum acerifolium  Maple-leaved Viburnum, Dockmackie

  • Viburnum dentatum  Southern Arrow-wood Viburnum

  • Viburnum nudum  Possum-haw, Smooth Witherod Viburnum

  • Viburnum prunifolium  Blackhaw viburnum

Examples of NOVA native trees under 40 feet

  • Amelanchier arborea  Downy Serviceberry

  • Amelanchier canadensis  Canada Shadblow Serviceberry

  • Amelanchier laevis  Allegheny Serviceberry

  • Asimina triloba  Pawpaw, Common Pawpaw

  • Carpinus caroliniana  American Hornbeam, Ironwood

  • Cercis canadensis  Eastern Redbud

  • Chionanthus virginicus  Fringe Tree, Old Man's Beard

  • Cornus florida  Flowering Dogwood

  • Crataegus viridis  Green Hawthorn

  • Magnolia virginiana  Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia

  • Ostrya virginica  Hophornbeam, Ironwood

  • Prunus americana  American Wild Plum

  • Prunus angustifolia  Chickasaw Plum