Tree species for your yard

Tips to pick the right species for your yard to help wildlife, soil, and more

by Abby Henkel, Communications Director, and Chris Fox, Land Stewardship Manager

In celebration of Arbor Day 2020, we’ve put together resources and ideas to help you pick the right tree species for your yard and take care of it over the years. Although we’ve had to turn our annual Arbor Day Tree Giveaway into a long-distance celebration this year due to the coronavirus, we’re finding lots of ways to connect and celebrate trees together from afar. Check out our list of Long-Distance Arbor Day Celebration events; we hope you’ll participate!

The following tips and species suggestions come from the City of Bloomington’s fantastic Tree Care Manual. It’s just a start, so explore all your options for species before you settle on one. As Burnell Fischer, a member of Sycamore’s Advisory Board and a clinical professor emeritus in clinical and urban forestry at IU, explains, we strive for a broad diversity of species to encourage overall ecological health and biodiversity. There’s no one perfect tree for every situation!


  1. Look around at the planting site to determine the maximum size your tree can be. You don’t want to obstruct street signs or lights, or damage power lines, sidewalks or buildings.
  2. Consider special features of a tree like spring buds, fall colors, fruits or nuts, and other desirable attributes.
  3. Think through a tree’s annual cycle and whether it will be dropping large seeds, nuts, or fruits in your garden or along walkways that could present issues.
  4. Research the special needs of a tree — habitat, sunlight, soil type, moisture, disease prevention — and be sure you can provide that in your planting area.

Volunteers prepped seedlings for Sycamore’s Arbor Day Tree Giveaway in 2019



When you pick the right tree, be sure to read up on tips for planting and care to help your seedling grow. Check out the manual mentioned above for details, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Lay down plenty of mulch at the base of the tree, and form it into a donut rather than a volcano shape to direct water toward the tree.
  • For the first three years, water it with 10 gallons per week if there hasn’t been rain.
  • When planting a bare-rooted seedling, don’t bend the root. Dig the hole deep enough to fit the root.
  • Staking might be necessary to provide support for the first two or three years.
  • A tube around the tree seedling in its early years can help protect against deer, rabbits, and mowers/string trimmers.
  • Be sure to plant your seedling with plenty of clearance so when it reaches its full size, it won’t interfere with any structures or pavement.

Sycamore staff and volunteers planted trees and shared a communal lunch at the Powell Preserve in 2006



Here are just a few ideas for trees that will suit various needs. All of these species are native to Indiana and provide fantastic benefits for the ecosystem. Learn more about planting native species on our Plant Natives page.

For a full list of native trees of Indiana, check out the Indiana Wildlife Federation’s list.

Black cherryedible fruit in late summer for birds and mammals (including humans! but remove the pits, which can be toxic in large quantities), pretty spring flowers, can grow over 100 feet, full sun, leaves provide food for caterpillars

Eastern redbudgorgeous pink flowers in early spring provide nectar for pollinators, grows up to 30 feet, can tolerate some shade, provides shelter and nesting site

Flowering dogwoodearly spring flowers for pollinators, small size for yards (20-40 feet), berries provide food for birds, good for shadier areas

Pawpawsmall tree/large shrub, fruit is edible by humans and lots of wildlife but requires cross-pollination, good for shady areas and understory or forest edges, pretty flowers, attracts birds and butterflies

Red oakbeautiful red leaves in fall, grows up to 75 feet, full sun, incredible benefits for wildlife (acorns, nesting habitat, insects in bark)

Serviceberrylarge shrub/small tree ideal for smaller areas, provides food for birds, beautiful spring flowers and fall colors

Tulip poplar: our state tree! 70-90 feet tall, tolerates some drought and clay soil, bountiful seeds provide food for many species, beautiful yellow fall color