FAQs Answered – Can I Pick The Type Of Tree To Be Planted?

The Gifted Tree has been planting memorial and celebration trees since 2013. When you have been doing the same thing for a long time, you get a lot of the same questions. In a series of blogs, I will provide some answers to these frequently asked questions as well as provide in-depth reasons for the answer, more in-depth than what is provided on the FAQ section of our website. Today, the FAQ to be discussed is, “Can I pick the type of tree to be planted?”

Short Answer to the FAQ: Can I pick the species of tree to be planted? 

Unfortunately, not. While the types of trees planted at a particular project are often listed in planting project description sheets, you are not able to designate the type of tree to plant. We leave it up to the professionals on site to determine the best trees to plant to achieve the project’s goals. Silviculturists (scientists who study how to grow trees) decide on the type of tree that will grow best in an area, and the best time of year to plant. The objectives of the silvicultural prescriptions for planting sites include the reintroduction of tree species that were originally in that particular ecosystem in order to improve the resilience and resistance of the forest to fire, insects, diseases, and the potential effects of climate change. So, while you will know the different tree species included in your planting project, you won’t know specifically which one is your tree species.

More In-depth Answer to the FAQ: Can I pick the species of tree to be planted? 

You might have noticed in the answer above, it states that most planting projects have multiple species of trees, not just one. When I first started doing this type of work, and actually went into the field and to plant the trees, we would only plant one species of trees. I would arrive at a site and several hundred of the same species of trees would be waiting for us to plant. We would spend the day digging and planting these trees, not worrying where exactly they would go as long as we left at least a shovel length in between each tree. In other words, we did not want the saplings to be too close to one another. That they knew was not good for long-term survivability.

A few years ago, there was a shift in understanding tree planting strategies and what is best to ensure a “happy” tree. I would get to the site and while there would still be several hundred trees waiting to be planted, they were separated into groups of 5- 6 different species. We were given instructions to make sure all the different species were planted in the different grids that were “drawn” out on the landscape in front of us. I was curious as to what was the catalyst to this new philosophy in tree planting, so I asked the arborists who were helping with the project logistics.

They explained that while it was once thought that it did not matter if there was one species or multiple species planted in a project, scientific research concluded that trees were “happier” when grouped with a multitude of species. Not only is it important to plant more trees and increase the tree canopy in this country, but it is also essential to be more thoughtful as to what is planted. I live in the community of Shaker Heights, a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio. We have beautiful tree lined streets, but in its founding, about 100 years ago, the streets were lined mainly with elm trees. Unfortunately, Dutch elm disease was brought to this country and caused the tragic demise of the specie’s population. The practice of planting the same type of tree exclusively in one area was beautiful when it worked but as these trees succumbed to elm disease, many of them had to be cut down.  As a result of situations like that just described, mixed planting of various species of trees is now considered the correct practice in these settings. Thus, when travelling down the streets of Shaker Heights, one will still find them to be tree lined, but instead of just elms, there are a variety of species.

A similar practice is taking place in the forest, and for good reason. The most compelling argument for planting a mix of various kinds of trees in a given area is that this is how forests grow naturally. The model that Mother Nature uses is mingling diverse species that have a variety of genetic strengths. If one species gets attacked by pests or disease, there are other species that are resistant to the problem, and they maintain the forest until the threatened one either recovers or is succeeded by another type of tree. This diverse tree population, especially if the trees are native to the region, also hosts diverse populations of beneficial creatures that protect the tree community, which in turn, sustains them. Furthermore, diverse types of trees in polyculture (the planting of multiple species) tree plantings each have their own unique susceptibilities and resistances which offset others’ vulnerabilities. Because they harbor a healthy community of organisms and animals that are in balance, pest and disease problems typically are not able to take hold as easily and do not spread as extensively.


As we better understand the science of the forest, we adapt our methods to take advantage of our knowledge. It took many years to determine that planting the same species presented problems, but it wasn’t necessarily the species that was the problem, but the method. Now as we seek to enhance the tree canopy around the country, in both urban and rural situations, we understand that planting a diverse group of tree species can yield better results with forests that are better able to adapt and survive invasion of diseases and hopefully adapt better to climate change issues as well. So, while you can’t pick the precise species for your memorial or celebration tree, realize that your tree is a gift to the earth and making a lasting impact by understanding that the experts are planting multiple tree species to ensure long-term growth, lasting for generations.

Doug and Laura from The Gifted Tree planting trees in Cuyahoga Valley National Park Ohio