Those of us with long driveways often fantasize about having a stately planting of driveway trees. We’ve all seen them; perfect matching colonnades of mature trees marching along the lane leading to the house of our dreams. My favorites are down in Bourbon County, Kentucky, mature pin oaks planted more than a hundred years ago.
Choosing and planting heirloom trees like this takes some planning. Not only must the trees match, but they should be planted at the same time in the same way, and carefully trained so that they continue to match as they mature.
If you have a long driveway, planting trees for its entire length can be an expensive project so it’s tempting to chip away at it over time. The problem with this is that the trees will be differing sizes, or can even be slightly different genetically so they will never match and you won’t get the classy effect you’re after. A solution is to start with smaller trees, so you can afford the whole project at one time. This presents two challenges: protecting younger trees from deer and “limbing them up” over time as they grow. Here are a few simple rules:
Start out with quality, matching trees so that they will be from the same seed stock and root stock. Use at least two sturdy stakes per tree to make sure the trees grow straight. A terrific deer protection is to wrap a few feet of wire fencing around the tree stakes. Put a “mulch circle” (tree well) around each tree to keep the grass away. Prune the lowest branches so that the bottom limbs on all the trees are at the same height, and “limb them up” a little more each year as they grow, until you can walk under them.
Driveway trees should be spaced so that when they are fully mature they will not crowd each other, but not so far apart that they seem stingy. Spacing should be 1-1/2 times the mature tree spread. If you want the trees to form an archway over the drive, they should be the same distance across from each other as the mature spread.
Trees that overhang driveways and streets must be “limbed up” high enough to provide clearance for vehicles. This may be done in stages over several years, particularly if you start with fairly young trees. Spreading trees like Bradford Pear should be avoided because they will eventually block traffic. Upright growers like Cleveland Select pear, Gingko, or thornless honeylocust work much better. Shade trees like oak, elm or maple work well too, but should be spaced further apart and further from the roadway.
Our most popular driveway tree is the Cleveland Select pear. It has the same showy blooms, dark glossy leaves and crimson fall foliage as Bradford, but is narrow and upright. It is easy to limb up to a high crown when young, and has an alternating branch structure so it won’t split under ice load like Bradford pear. Cleveland Pears are fast growing, very adaptable to poor soils, drought tolerant and disease resistant. They hold their leaves longer than most trees, have showy red fall color and white blooms in spring. They can make driveway tree dreams come true very easily.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Farm Country Garden Center & Nursery, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. You can read previous columns on the “Weekly Blog” page at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021 for gardening assistance.