Tree and Shrub Selection Guide

Find the right shrubs and trees for your yard and garden

Lush sunny green garden with mountain view
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Are you looking for the right trees and shrubs to plant in your new yard or the right ones to add to your existing landscaping? Here is what you need to know so you can pick the best ones from among all of the choices available.

Trees, Shrubs, and Subshrubs

If you've never thought about the difference in types of plants, you may want to explore some definitions. Trees have a woody trunk, definite crown, and are at least 13 feet tall when mature. Shrubs and bushes may have a woody stem, but they top out under 13 feet and the stems don't grow to more than 3 inches in diameter. A subshrub (such as lavender) has a woody base and sends up new herbaceous shoots each year during the primary growing season.

It also pays to know which plants you don't want. Avoid invasive shrubs or have them removed.

Find Your USDA Hardiness Zone

What climate area do you live in? Consult the USDA hardiness zone map. You'll see that there are 11 different zones in the United States, based on the average coolest temperature. When you know your zone, you'll be able to limit your choices to plants that can survive and thrive in that zone. Then you won't be subjecting plants to freezing or burning that they aren't adapted to tolerate. For countries outside of the USA, consult a map of hardiness zones around the world.

Soil, Sun, Shade, and Drainage

The acidity (pH) and nutrients in your soil are important pieces of information for knowing which plants will do best in your yard. It's worthwhile to test your soil using a kit available from a garden center or your county extension office. Also consider the texture of your soil and whether it's sand, silt, or clay.

How well does the area drain? Is the area you are going to plant in full sun, shade, or combination? You might need to choose to plant specific shrubs for shady areas. Will you also need drought-tolerant shrubs?

Landscaping Design Considerations

You'll want to develop a plan for where you want to place your trees and shrubs, with how much distance they will have between plants and structures. You don't want to plant a shrub or tree that will get too tall or too wide for the space you want to fill. You'll also want to consider how much care they will entail. Will they need pruning, raking leaves, frequent watering, or feedings?

Consider when the plant will have colorful foliage, blossoms, or fruit and how that will blend with other foliage in your yard. If you're interested in attracting pollinators or birds, that is another factor.

Deciding on the Right Trees and Shrubs

Perhaps you're looking for a certain type of tree or shrub, but don't know which ones will be best for your hardiness zone. Use these profiles to see some of the different types of trees commonly planted in yards.