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Posted by on Nov 19, 2015 in Environment Posts, Landscape architecture Posts

7 Common Mistakes People Make When Selecting Trees and How to Avoid Them

We take a look at 7 common mistakes people make when selecting trees how to avoid them at all costs.

Trees are poems the earth writes upon the sky.” This is how Lebanese-American poet, artist and writer Khalil Gibran outlines his eloquent definition of trees, one of the most wondrous life forms on Earth.

With more than 23,000 different species and a record for being the oldest living organisms in the world, trees fascinate us with their majesty, immensity, and glamor. Aren’t landscape architects blessed for having the opportunity to work with that living matter?

"Old Danish tree" by Guyon Morée. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The oldest living organisms in the world. “Old Danish tree” by Guyon Morée. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

If you are one of those fortunate people who gets to create pieces of art using trees, you have arrived at the right place. Here we will help you answer these questions: How do you reach the best design solution when specifying trees for planting? What are the most common mistakes you should look out for and how can you avoid them? Learn something new with us.

1. Overlooking the Complex Functions of Trees

Our list of errors begins with one of the more general aspects of tree-planting design. How does vegetation planted in and around an urban scape affect the city as a system? This question concerns the multiple functions of trees and their synergic action.

The three major groups of park trees’ functions are engineering, ecological, and aesthetical. They cover a plethora of utilities, including traffic, acoustics, light and soil erosion control, climate and air pollution control, and visual direction. Imagine the value and the final result of a tree-planting selection that serves all of these functions. It’s more than clear to say that it is most rational to design projects that have a multifunctional purpose. Don’t overlook this complexity; use it instead, and see how your efforts will be rewarded.

In this inspiring article by Agmarie Calderón Alonso, we witness the amazing story of Jadav Payeng, who shows us how a single man can grow an entire forest, where the trees fight erosion and provide habitat for animals.
Forest Man Trailer

If you’re wondering how to avoid this oversight, think of Payeng’s example. Recall the impressive final result, and never forget that trees are astonishing, and astonishing things can be built using them.

2. Ignorance of the Morphological Characteristics of Trees

The second flaw some landscape architects have been related to their knowledge gaps in terms of trees’ morphological features. These concern not only the ornamental value of trees, but also the safe, adequate interaction among vegetation, built environment, and people. Tree height, crown shape and density, root system, size, form, and colors of leaves and flowers are some of the most substantial classifications. The adroit combination or contrasting each tree’s peculiarities are the keys to creating symphonious landscapes.

A good example of proper tree specification is the case of street tree-planting design in which only species with shallow root systems are used to avoid possible pavement damage in the future. Check out this comprehensive article entitled “Choosing Urban Trees: The Essential Guide”, by Julia Lucchese.

WATCH: Residential Street Tree Maintenance

As to aesthetic qualities, this outlandish design of a residence in Thailand offers a dynamic tree-planting scheme. Further details are revealed by Gerard de Silva in his article.

T.Residence. Photo courtesy of LOKOH= Co., Ltd.

T.Residence. Photo courtesy of LOKOH= Co., Ltd.

Perhaps avoiding this demerit goes hand in hand with experience and serendipity, but until then, new landscape architects should make every endeavor to study trees and their morphology, for they are the fundamental material to work with.

3. Neglecting the Environmental Requirements of Trees

Our list continues with one rather obvious, yet frequent mistake designers make: neglecting the environmental requirements of plants. This is true whether it be perennials, shrubs, or trees. Stress, however, should be placed on trees, as the largest damage, loss, and problems may derive from them if they are treated negligently.

Environmental conditions are crucial for trees’ proper growth and development. That’s why, to build sustainable, healthy, and visually appealing tree groups, a maximal accordance between environmental requirements and conditions is needed.

If, for instance, you choose Fraxinus excelsior for a highly populated industrial zone, you will most probably feel sure that the tree is gas-tight and will live undisturbedly there. But, if the tree doesn’t receive enough light and is planted on poor soil terrain, this may lead to a decrease in both its vitality and gas resistance. So basically, this case displays once again that trees are complex systems, and that the best results can only be achieved if complexity isn’t forgotten, even for a second.

Hyllie-Plaza

Hyllie Plaza. Photo credit: Kasper Dudzik

An excellent example of conformity with beech trees’ requirements in an artificial environment is illustrated in Diana Ispas’ article reviewing the Hyllie Plaza project, by Thorbjörn Andersson and Sweco architects.

4. Disregarding the Biological Characteristics of Trees

The next major factor is the knowledge of trees’ phenology. The two most vital classifications according to biological characteristics are growth rate and longevity (life span). The first one is mostly vital for tree grouping and the possibility to obtain a satisfying result with fast-growing trees over a short period of time. The second feature — longevity — can affect both economic and aesthetic points of view. Trees’ phenology covers classifications such as time of foliation, flowering, and fall of the leaves, as well. All these are irreplaceable factors that should be taken into consideration when planning and maintaining tree plantings.

Sugar Beach; credit: www.claudecormier.com

Sugar Beach; credit: www.claudecormier.com

A well-advised tree-planting design can be found in the work of Claude Cormier + Associés. These two articles by Tania Ramos Gianone and Rose Buchanan present inspiring performances for tree-planting selections:

Two more projects incorporating seasonal interest can be viewed in the articles of Yuliya Georgieva and Amir Schlezinger:

Foundation Jeantet.

Cherry trees at Foundation Jeantet. Credit: ©agenceter

5. Creating Reckless Tree Combinations

Getting deeper into the biological matter of tree species, we go back in time, when from 1928-1930, Dr. Boris P. Tokin, a Russian biochemist from Leningrad University, coined the term phytoncides. Tokin discovered that some living plants produce and excrete biologically active substances that protect them from certain microorganisms, insects, and animals. After a great deal of research and experimentation, scientists concluded that phytoncides are one of the factors affecting plants’ immunity and the interaction between organisms in biotopes.

That’s the reason why interactions between tree species in some cases are competitive while in others they are mutually beneficial.

Favorable tree combinations include, for instance, groups of oak with lime tree, spruce with aspen, and cherry tree with beech, ash tree, and hornbeam. Unsuitable groups include birch with white elm, ash tree with birch and white elm, and scots pine with field elm.

Give yourself the time needed to pick out the perfect tree species. Once you have your list completed, verify your selection. If you still feel uncertain, ask more experienced professionals for some expert advice. A little more time spent in preparation is certainly better than long-term future problems.

6. Forgetting That Trees are Signs of Information

Turning back to the design process, tree arrangements can’t be ignored whether used for arrays, ornamental groups, or as singular accents in the overall composition, trees are the leading element shaping the spatial organization in landscape design. Trees can define or unite park rooms. They can facilitate people’s experience while also directing them. If designed with set purpose, tree groups can create park perspectives, turning visitors’ eyes to certain vistas or focal points in or outside the park’s territory.

Planning arresting, scenic, and stirring landscapes without embracing that function of trees is unthinkable. So, if you wish to beat that blunder while you’re designing, imagine yourself in the landscape. Imagine where you’re walking, what you see, and what you feel while strolling in your future project.

23̊ Estate

23̊ Estate. Photo courtesy of Shma CO., Ltd.

To see how dramatic scenes are captured and framed by skillful tree-planting selection, read about these two projects reviewed by Harkyo Hutri Baskoro and Katrina Elpos:

Bassil Mountain Escape.

Bassil Mountain Escape. Photo courtesy of VLADIMIR DJUROVIC LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE

7. Ceasing Your Study of Trees

One last note landscape architects should bear in mind is to never stop exploring the world of trees. In this way, one will keep enriching one’s expertise constantly, while developing competence and respect for the landscape architecture profession.

Some of the most amazing facts about trees every landscape architect should know are collected in the following two features written by Ashley Penn and Erin Tharp:

From our hit article 8 Amazing Facts About Trees That You Didn’t Know. This could save your life; credit: Lorenzo Tonello / shutterstock.com, modification by SDR

From our hit article 8 Amazing Facts About Trees That You Didn’t Know. This could save your life; credit: Lorenzo Tonello / shutterstock.com, modification by SDR

Finally, we should never underestimate trees’ significance. We will only be able to design sublime landscapes if we celebrate trees’ grandeur to the fullest. And one thing is certain – this attention will pay off as your designs come to fruition.

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