My neighbor up the hill asked me about what trees to plant on his land, and I had to stop and think a minute. He wants 30 or 40 trees, fast growing, to do some reforestation on his property and that works. Reforestation is a big problem, so I applaud planting trees as a carbon sink. But what if you don’t want to reforest, what if you only want to do some spot planting of trees on your property? What then? Well, then, you have some questions to ask.
What do you want the tree to do? We have lots of shade trees in the tropics, but many of them take a while to grow. If it’s for shade, consider the growth rate. Do you want flowers from your tree? We have flowering trees with fragrance and without, but consider the clean-up. Flowering trees drop those petals all over the ground and they also usually make seed pods (which then drop) which need to be cleaned up. Do you want the tree to hide something; to be a screen? Then you want fast growing.
Do you want fruit? We have a huge variety of fruiting trees, but they grow more slowly on average than other trees. You are better off buying an older (4- to 5-year-old) tree than a younger smaller tree. And make sure you really want the fruit. A friend of mine planted a manzana de agua (water apple) only to find that she couldn’t cope with the amount of fruit it produced. Rotting water apples are not pleasant.
How big will your tree be (not just height, but width), and how long will that take. I would love to have one of those beautiful Guanacaste trees that I see in parks and on the grounds of hotels, but I don’t have 300 years to wait. And where do you want that tree? I recall friends who planted a lovely ylang ylang close to the house only to find that it blocked the view in just three years.
Do you want an evergreen? Many newcomers think all our trees are evergreens, but we have trees that drop their leaves all at once and can be bare for five months. That means a lot of clean-up and a long wait for new greenery.
Will your tree interfere with other plantings? Is it going to shade out your sun loving shrubs in a couple of years? Do you mind transplanting the shrubs or are you going to want to cut that tree down.
Is the tree toxic to other plantings? I recall someone complaining that they wanted some shrubs under their teak trees (the ground looked so bare). Well, teak, like the northern black walnut, produces a toxin that kills undergrowth. Once you plant teak, it will be years before you can plant anything else in the area. If you want shrubs close to your teak, plan on nice big pots.
In short, there are so many things to consider that you might want to do what I do. Ask an expert!