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Do trees increase property value or will they become a hassle to care for? That comes down to the health, vigor, and species of the trees gracing your lawn, which starts with planting trees that are a great match for your climate and soil. Follow this guide to tree selection based on science and not whatever some random clerk at the store is selling you. Then, keep reading for tips on how to care for your trees and market them to buyers when the time comes to sell your home.
Calculating tree value for your property
Trees — so long as they are happy and healthy — are worth something of monetary value. A summary of tree studies featured in Arborist News — “City Trees and Property Values” — by social-scientist Kathleen Wolf found that, “homes with trees are generally preferred to comparable homes without trees, with the trend across studies being a price increase of about 7%.”
HomeLight’s 2019 research on the value of curb appeal backs this up, too: 75% of top real estate agents agree that well-landscaped homes are worth anywhere from 1% to 10% more than homes without landscaping.
However, the value of any given tree in your yard depends on a lot of variables. The Council of Tree & Landscape Appraisers has a formula for valuing trees, based on factors like the landscape merit of the tree species, the location of the tree (whether it’s historically preserved, on a golf course, or based on a residential property), as well as the tree’s overall condition.
According to the Council, “Wounds, decay, storm damage, insect or disease damage, and poor form” all dock value in a tree appraisal. A dying or diseased tree can also pose a safety risk to the surrounding property by way of brittle branches hanging by a thread.
Find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone as a starting point
Based on the information above, this much is clear: A dying or infected tree is of no value. In fact, it’s going to cost you money to treat or remove it. So don’t plant trees that aren’t meant to thrive in your area.
How can you do that? Well, the Plant Hardiness Zone Map developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) helps you identify which types of plants will survive in your “Average Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature” — in other words — just how dang cold it gets where you live. This is super useful as you pick trees to plant.
For example, a Windmill Palm is a tropical plant that will thrive in Zones 8-11, making it appropriate only as far north as South Carolina except in some zones of California. The Autumn Blaze Maple, on the other hand, will do best north of those areas in Zones 3-8. To find your zone, input your ZIP code at the top of USDA’s map tool.
Test your soil chemistry: Is it alkaline or acidic?
Hardiness zones don’t paint a complete picture, however. Jeff Edgar, President and Owner of Silver Creek Nurseries in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, says choosing trees involves other considerations, like soil pH.
“I’d like to say that the USDA Hardiness Zones can be a little misleading,” says Edgar. “Besides the hardiness zones, little to no attention is paid to soil chemistry. For example, in my area of Wisconsin, our soils are generally very alkaline. Even if a tree would be cold-hardy, it may not survive in our soils.”
Knowing whether your soil is more alkaline or acidic is important in urban areas as well, where alkaline materials, like lime-based gravels, can make it hard for alkaline-intolerant trees to survive. In Edgar’s area, Honey Locusts and Maples are good alkaline-tolerant tree options, for example.
You can test the pH of your soil without buying a kit. According to guidance from The Spruce, a site that advises more than 30 million readers each month on top home improvement projects, all you need is a soil sample, white vinegar, baking soda, water, and two disposable cups to conduct an acidity-alkalinity experiment. Just follow these simple steps:
- Alkaline test: Scoop a soil sample into one cup, add 1/2 a cup of vinegar and watch to see if the soil fizzes. If it does, that’s evidence that the soil is alkaline.
- Acidity test: Put some fresh soil into a different cup. Add 1/2 a cup of water, mix it around, followed by 1/2 a cup of baking soda. Fizzling in this case indicates acidity.
- No reaction to either test means the soil has a balanced pH.
Buy fledgling trees to reduce upfront costs
When you have time on your side, young trees will be your best bet, offering you a cheap upfront cost that makes your property value gains that much bigger as the tree matures. For instance, a 1.5 gallon Leyland Cypress tree costs $17, an 8.75 gallon costs $84, and a 28.5 gallon costs $227.
Spending the extra money may be worth the splurge on a more mature tree if you’re trying to create curb appeal to sell your home on a fast timeline. However, the process of transplanting a large tree or shrub could call for special equipment and techniques. With tree planting, you’ll get a better bang for your buck (and have better luck) if you plant while the tree’s still fledging and let it grow undisrupted.
Cold-Hardy Trees for Northern Climates and Midwest (Zones 1-5)
Some trees are built for cold weather with thicker bark, deeper roots, and the ability to lower their moisture content to reduce freezing damage by going dormant during the winter. These trees are specifically suited to places with an Average Annual Extreme Minimum Temperature of -15°F to -60°F.
Type 1: Flowering Trees
Flowering trees are great for springtime curb appeal, and many of them also stay fairly petite, so they are a practical, pretty choice to dress up smaller yards.
What to buy:
Type 2: Maple Trees
Maples provide shade, offer vibrant leaves in the fall, and are hardy for many different climates. Sugar Maples, Red Maples, and Norway Maples are often hardy through Zone 3, withstanding temperatures that get down as low as -40°F.
What to buy:
Type 3: Linden Trees
Linden trees are hardy and adaptable, while remaining picturesque. They are able to handle a fairly urban environment and many varieties can survive mild to moderate air pollution.
What to buy:
- Linden Tree, Nature Hills Nursery, $79.95
Low-Maintenance Trees for Temperate (Zones 5-8)
Top real estate agent Buzz Mackintosh, a top-selling real estate agent in Frederick, Maryland, spoke with HomeLight about how trees boost property values in the more temperate zone of 6b. He emphasized the value of evergreens, which don’t drop leaves seasonally.
“If you have a highway or something behind the property, you may want a row of Leyland Cypresses to block the view and get some privacy,” says Mackintosh. Low-maintenance trees are usually drought-resistant, pest-resistant, and don’t require frequent pruning. Here are some of the top low-maintenance, high-value trees for the temperate, middle zones.
Type 1: Evergreen Trees
With these conifer evergreens, the benefits include their natural beauty and low-maintenance growth, and the contrast between their looks in summer and winter isn’t as high as with deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves in the fall). They also grow fast, as much as 4 feet a year, if you’d like to get a privacy border up quickly.
What to buy:
- Leyland Cypress, a type of conifer that grows best in zones 6-10, Home Depot, $24.77
Type 2: Magnolia Trees
Found mostly in southern areas but increasingly in other zones that have mild winters, magnolias have beautiful, white creamy blossoms and dark waxy leaves that make them instantly recognizable and elegant.
What to buy:
- Southern Magnolia, The Tree Center, $59.50
Type 3: Fruit Trees
Looking for a tree that will hold up, grow nice and slow, and bear some fruit if the squirrels don’t get it first? A fruit tree like a persimmon, peach, or cherry tree all work well in temperate zones. If your zone is a little colder, aim for stone fruits, and if a little warmer, go for a citrus option.
What to buy:
Drought-Resistant Trees for Southwest and Dry Areas (Zones 8-11)
Trees in dryer areas of the country need to survive on very little water, full sun, and high temperatures. Plant a Zone-4 Maple variety and you’ll see it wilt during the day and eventually shrivel up from lack of water.
Type 1: Oak Trees
Oaks have their place all over the country, but particular oak varieties, like the twisty Live Oak, do particularly well even when there isn’t a lot of rain. They don’t need tons of fertilizer or pest control, all while providing very important erosion-control in these dry areas of the country.
What to buy:
- Live Oak, Home Depot, $30.53
Type 2: Palm Trees
Palm trees, adapted for hot climates, are good at weathering time without rain. You also can’t compete with palm trees for adding texture and curb appeal to a Southwestern yard. Their wide fronds also provide much-needed shade for other landscaping elements.
What to buy:
Type 3: Willow Trees
While many willow trees are water-loving, there are varieties, like the Australian Willow and Desert Willow, that do well in dry climates and actually provide the shade that can foster an “oasis-like” feel in a landscape. Willows also provide nice natural landscaping.
What to buy:
- Desert Willow, Tucson Clean and Beautiful, $25
Keep your trees healthy and happy
When you’ve first transplanted a tree, it has experienced a shock to the system. It’s important to mulch, water, and monitor the tree for any signs of leaf damage. After the first year, many kinds of trees benefit from additional tree fertilizers, like an all-purpose plant food, to supplement the nutrients naturally present in the soil.
While many residential trees will thrive for 10-20 years or much longer, disease or storm damage kills trees and makes them unsafe to have near your home.
Care for or cut down unhealthy trees
A tree is only valuable to your property as long as it’s alive and healthy. If fungus starts to grow at the base of the trunk, new shoots appear at the base of the tree, or roots begin to appear at the surface of the yard where once there were no visible roots, these all could be signs that your tree is struggling.
Every year trees lose limbs and contribute to the 25% home insurance claims that involve wind damage to roofs. Because prices for tree-trimming can be from $250 to $500 and removal of a tree can range from $500 to thousands of dollars for old, large trees, people delay tree removal and put their homes at risk.
As for people selling homes: “If there is a really old tree on the property and it’s hanging over the house, that’s definitely a problem. They’re probably going to have to have it removed or you’ll see it come up on the home inspection,” Mackintosh advises.
If your tree fails to produce new buds or make big height gains, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dying. It may be growing slowly. To gauge the health of your tree, perform a “scratch test,” which involves scratching through the top dry layer of bark. The layer underneath should appear green if the tree is alive, and will be brown and dry if the tree has died.
Many tree services will offer a free estimate of the cost to remove trees, so you can use that opportunity to learn which of the trees in your yard are dead. Tree services can also diagnose treatable conditions, and if the tree isn’t too far gone, they can apply an insecticide, fungicide, or other treatment first. Treatment is a good first step before removal, allowing you to spend less money and keep your beautiful tree.
Show off your property’s trees if you have them
Mackintosh recommends leaning in on the beauty of your landscaping and trees when it comes to selling your home, and a picture helps your potential buyers fall in love with your sun-dappled shady yard. “You’ll absolutely want to get some drone shots of the trees and some great photography for the marketing materials,” says Mackintosh.
Drone shots allow you to get aerial, overarching images that you can’t capture from the street. These perspectives give context to the size of the house and the scale of the trees. If you have many deciduous trees with bright autumn colors, try to get seasonal photos, even if you know you won’t sell until another season. Those bright colors will be sure to catch people’s eye in the listing photos. In the listing description itself, describe the unique and positive aspects of your trees, including a recent clean bill of health from a tree evaluator, the age of the tree, or any unusual and coveted tree species gracing the property.
Mackintosh, for example, once sold a home with a very old ginkgo tree that was considered one of the oldest ginkgo trees in Maryland. The fame of the tree was part of the appeal of the property to buyers.
Let your trees accent the house, not cover it
Make sure that enthusiastic-growth trees don’t block the best features when you want to sell your home.
“I’ve sold houses in neighborhoods where the landscaping got out of control and needed to be trimmed back just so you could see the house. Landscaping can cover up the property, which can hinder the photographer from being able to take decent photos of the house,” says Mackintosh.
For practical shade value, plant medium and large-sized trees 15-20 feet from the house, which has the additional benefits of keeping roots away from the foundation of the home.
Trees add value in more ways than one
If you think about it, trees are the quiet superheroes of Earth. They offer shade on hot summer days. They’re like a free jungle-gym in the backyard. They kindly clean up the air we breathe (it’s estimated that one large mature tree pumps out a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over a year, that same tree will pull in 48 pounds of carbon dioxide). And a mature tree’s towering presence adds character and beauty to an otherwise dull landscape.
You can get the ball rolling with a visit to your local plant nursery. Just make sure you’re talking with someone knowledgable. Many local nurseries have a landscaper and a tree service, either in-house or someone they recommend. Get some referrals, plan a budget for tree removal or addition, and start the process of growing your property value.
Header Image Source: (Natalija Mislevicha / Pexels)