When it comes time to pick out a tree, consider how tall and wide it will get, how much sun or shade it needs, whether it requires protection from wind, and what kind of soil and moisture it needs so that you can choose the right tree for your site.
If you’re looking for fall color, shop in the coming weeks so that you can see the color actually on the trees. Maples have showed stress through recent droughts and heat waves but remain popular at local nurseries. “We tell people they have to keep them watered real good in case a drought returns,” Mike Brady of Brady Nursery said. Brandywine is a newer red maple that turns color earlier than the late-turning October Glory, he said.
Chinese pistache is a tree that makes many people’s lists of best trees for Wichita, and it also has good fall color. But it requires good drainage and could drown in an irrigated yard that has heavy clay soil unless it’s planted high, Brady said.
Through all the ups and downs, there are some trees that are Wichita classics. Greg McHenry of Hillside Nursery has some favorites.
“I prefer Chinese pistache, bald cypress, any of the oaks, sycamores are good,” McHenry said. “Any of the flowering crabapples and redbuds, they’re always beautiful.
“Not all trees are going to be equal in the canopy they provide. Chinese pistache is a medium size, and lacebark elm is going to get huge.
“Those are the ones that have kind of stood the test of time here. Even though they’re not real glamorous, they’re durable and they’re beautiful and they do work here.”
The Extension Service has a list of plants that are drought-tolerant in this area (search www.sedgwick.ksu.edu for water-wise plants). Here is a sampling of the trees, all of which are deciduous as opposed to evergreen, meaning they lose their leaves:
• Tall trees: American elm, black walnut, bur oak, hackberry, English oak, ginkgo, Kentucky coffeetree, lacebark elm, bald cypress
• Medium trees: Chinese pistache, chinkapin oak, goldenrain tree, ornamental pear, Osage orange, trident maple, fruitless mulberry
• Small trees: amur maple, crabapple, fringe tree, Japanese tree lilac, redbud, serviceberry, smoketree, tatarian maple.
Because our old pine favorites and blue spruces have taken it on the chin with various diseases and climate problems in the past several years, horticulture experts don’t recommend them for planting here anymore.
Blue Ice Arizona cypress has become a popular alternative, said Dail Hong of Hong’s Landscape & Nursery. “It's an extremely hardy tree. It’s very drought-tolerant,” Hong said. “The only downside is it can get very, very large. It’s slow-growing but very large.”
Here is a list of the best-bet evergreens that community forester Tim McDonnell and Jason Griffin, director of the K-State research station in Haysville, recommend:
• Arizona cypress such as Blue Ice and Blue Pyramid (water it and then walk away; they can’t take an irrigated site).
• California incense cedar (also to be kept on the dry side).
• Cedar of Lebanon, a true cedar; extremely heat tolerant but slower-growing than most people would prefer. Keep it on the dry side.
• Oriental arborvitae.
• Loblolly pine. It often yellows with winter burn but pulls out of it. It’s fast-growing with a flush of growth in the spring and another flush later in the year. It tends to lose foliage near the base as it shades itself out.
• Lacebark pine (so far; it’s unknown whether it is susceptible to pine wilt).
• Atlas cedar, which includes but is not limited to the blue, weeping variety; there are green ones, too.
• Black Hills spruce (may need a bit of protection).
• Eastern red cedar (any Juniperus virginiana) such as the Canaert and Taylor.
• Ponderosa pine. Pine tip moth can make it a little ugly when it’s young but it outgrows it.
• Vanderwolf’s Pyramid limber pine.
• Bald cypress (not evergreen in winter but gives the effect in summer).
• Southern magnolia (not a conifer but keeps its green leaves in winter).
• Green Giant arborvitae. It grows so fast that it can become pot-bound, so be sure to inspect the root system when you buy one in a container.
• Southwestern white pine. A better alternative to Austrian pine, which gets tip blight.
• Deodar cedar. Not quite as cold hardy as cedars listed above.