Resetting Priorities

Young bur oak will serve this landscape wonderfully for decades. It’s one of Texas’ finest large shade trees.

So the call comes in to my radio program. The caller says something like this…
“Neil, I need to plant a new shade tree. I’m getting some years on me, so I don’t want to wait.”

And then the bombshell that I know is coming…
“What’s a good fast-growing shade tree?”

The way I often approach my answer is to ask the caller to help me make a list of all the attributes he or she wants in the new tree.

“I’ll make a list here, too,” I say. “I already have ‘fast-growing’ down. What else would you add?”

Often there’s silence for a moment, so I start asking whether any of these is important to them (presented in no particular order):

Good looks?
Good life expectancy?
Able to withstand Texas summers?
Not messy with lots of litter?
No major insect and disease problems?
Able to withstand your native soil?
Grows to proper height and width for space available?

(You may have your own list of attributes to add to that list.)

Fast growth generally equates to “weak wood,” and nowhere is that more obvious than in Bradford pears. This kind of trunk splitting is almost always the outcome when you choose this tree. Life expectancy before this happens to the pears: Sadly, only 12-15 years.

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Now, let’s go back and arrange those in order…
Using those attributes, and remembering that we’re looking for ‘fast growth’ as per the request, let’s list them in order of importance. Hold a card with ‘Fast growth’ written on it alongside all of the others, and one by one, ask yourself…

“Would I rather have ‘Fast growth’ or ‘Good looks?’”

“Would I rather have ‘Fast growth’ or ‘Good life expectancy?’”

And so on down the line. My bet is that ‘Fast growth will sink to the bottom of your list. You’ll suddenly realize how unimportant it really is when you compare ‘Fast growth’ to ‘Quality’ and ‘Durability.’

Permit me one more example. When I go to buy a new car, do I worry about how fast it will go? Honestly, I never did, even as a much younger man. But do I worry about whether the doors will fly off or the engine will start. Yes, I do – and always did!

I want a car that goes at a good rate of speed, but one that’s dependable and good looking. In other words, I want a car that’s just like my shade trees.

Best shade trees for big parts of Texas that would fit the list we’ve just posted: live oak, Shumard red oak, chinquapin oak, bur oak, Chinese pistachio, cedar elm, pecan, eastern redcedar juniper and southern magnolia. (Magnolias are admittedly slower than the rest.)

Posted by Neil Sperry
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