Jason Griffin, director of the John C. Pair Horticultural Center in Haysville and self-described tree guy, names the best trees for these uses in the yard:
Climbing: sweet gum, because of its nice horizontal branches spaced widely apart. Another: bur oak. On the other hand, keep your kids out of the river birch and silver maple (weak branches).
Building tree houses in: That requires putting nails in trees. We don’t do that.
Fall color: Chinese pistache, Texas red oak, ginkgo
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Flowers: magnolia, which is doable if you are a reasonably good gardener and the tree is planted in good soil on the east side of the house and not fully exposed to the wind; crabapples, though they've “taken it on the chin the last couple of years,” getting lots of cankers and borers. “I really like the new Royal Raindrops, and Purple Prince (crabapples). There are lots of good ones.”
Attracting wildlife: chinkapin or any of the white oaks; for birds, serviceberry, crabapples
Fragrance: Southern magnolia, in the summer when none of the other trees is blooming
Increasing property values: any of the oaks or sugar maples, for their stateliness and shade
Cutting utility bills: in the winter, evergreens and windbreaks; in the summer, the large stately trees such as oaks and sugar maples. Avoid silver maples and other fast-growing trees.
Planting close to the house: columnar trees, such as columnar oaks, a “wonderful” columnar hackberry that’s been released by K-State (Prairie Sentinel), columnar sweet gum, columnar hornbeams
Decorating for Christmas: evergreens. “I’ve got a 20-foot Green Giant (arborvitae) in my yard I decorate every year.”
Resisting disease: the trees on the south-central Kansas preferred tree list. “We've done that work – there's a lot of trees.”
Withstanding winds: oaks, thornless fruitless Osage orange. Griffin said that in the 11 years he’s been in Wichita, the area’s trees have experienced significant ice and wind. The only tree whose limbs he’s never had to pick up are those of Osage orange.