Are you considering adding a tree or trees to your lawn or landscape in the volunteer state? This list of the best trees for Tennessee will help you add a vertical dimension to your vegetation. The best tree for your landscaping needs will depend on your soil conditions and where you are in the state.
Also called Tulip tree or tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipifera is the Tennessee State Tree, and it is easy to see why! It grows almost everywhere in the state. And while it is not a true poplar, it is one of the fastest growing trees for Tennessee. This is one of the tallest native hardwoods in the U.S. and is a fast growing tree. It performs best on sites that have deep, moist soil and full sun, but it is highly adaptable.
Eastern Red Cedar
Eastern Red Cedar is one of the most common trees found in Tennessee and across the Eastern U.S. It grows best in highly alkaline soils found in the Nashville Basin and on the Cumberland Plateau. It is an early successional species, so it is great for turning old fields into wildlife habitat. While it is not a true cedar, Juniperus virginiana is one of the best wildlife species in the Eastern U.S. This evergreen tree gets a bad reputation for showing up in unmowed lots and along fencerows, but this is due to its highly adaptable nature. This tree will grow almost anywhere, so it’s perfect for those without a green thumb who want to support wildlife habitat.
While weeping willow is valued for its unique aesthetic and dramatic foliage, black willow is a native willow species that doesn’t get enough credit. Unlike its short-lived Chinese cousin, the native black willow can survive for over 100 years. This tree requires very wet soil and prefers full sun, but can survive in shade. The black willow is a larval host to several species of butterfly, including viceroy and tiger swallowtail, making it ideal for rain gardens. Black willow trees have orange and red fall colors. Flowers grow only on the female trees.
White oak can refer to the species Quercus alba, or to a group of oaks that share some characteristics which are not found in the red oak group. While both red and white oaks are good choices to provide shade and support wildlife, white oaks tend to be preferred. When choosing trees from the oak genus Quercus, you are unlikely to find fast growing trees. What you will find is brilliant fall colors, drought tolerant trees with a heavy straight trunk. Oaks are some of the best trees in Tennessee for multiple land uses. And while they may take a few extra years to grow into their classic stately look, they pay it back with gorgeous yellow fall foliage and superb wildlife value. Other species in the white oak group include
Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana – formerly Quercus prinus)
Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor)
One of the most prized native trees in the volunteer state and across the South, Magnolia grandiflora is part of the rare class of broadleaf evergreen trees (most evergreens have needles). Southern magnolia will survive as far north as Maryland, but only in areas that have relatively mild winters. It may need to be protected from frost, especially as a seedling. Magnolia grows best in lowlands and wet areas, and is happy in partial shade. It grows tall quickly and casts very deep shade. The bright white flowers give way to unique soft cones with large red seeds.
The most common maple species in the southeastern U.S., Acer rubrum provides some of the best fall color in the South. Red maple prefers full sun, but grows well as an understory or mid-story tree around other trees with an established canopy. They are relatively fast growing trees and are fairly disease resistant. The largest red maple in the country lives in Tennessee – in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In addition to fall color, the red maple provides springtime interest with its bright red buds in early spring, as well as red flowers on male trees and red fruits, called samaras, on the females in April and May. Red maple is tolerant of moist or dry soils.
Best Trees Tennessee Considerations
If you’re planting trees in Tennessee, your choices will depend on where you are located. In the Mississippi gulf coastal plain and Nashville Basin, wetland species like bald cypress and river birch may be better suited. Alternately, on the Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau with steep slopes and shallower soils, the best trees may be sweet gum and red mulberry. The secret is to put the right tree in the right spot. For more localized recommendations, get in touch with an unlawning expert.
For a garden that supports birds, wildlife, and the food web, choose plants that are native to your area. Science has shown us that these can support more life than ornamental species from other regions.
What are native plants?
Native plants are those which naturally occur in a region. The opposite of a native plant is one from a different part of the world. Many people garden with species that are ornamental, rather than using natives.
Why are native plants important?
Many people wonder why native plants are better for the environment. All kinds of plants can produce oxygen. And many are attractive to pollinators. So what makes natives so important?
The answer has to do with ecology. Native birds, wildlife, butterflies, and bees rely on your garden. And preserving these native animals requires gardening with plants that match their needs. Gardening with ornamental plants from other parts of the world can provide some food for local wildlife. But natives can support the most forms of life.
You can also check with your state or local university extension office to connect with other gardeners. Join local garden groups and explore opportunities for education related to sustainable gardening.
Where can I get native plants?
If you’re ready to add natives to your garden, shop at a nursery that specializes in native plants. You can also shop online nurseries that serve your area. Choose natives has a list of nurseries that do mail-order as well.
Your soil probably contains seeds from many native species. If you’re adventurous and can learn to identify seedlings, try letting a section of your lawn grow out. Chances are, many of the naturally occurring sprouts will be natives.
Another way to acquire natives is to grow them from seeds. You can collect seeds in the spring and fall from areas around your home. And your local library or university extension office may host a seed-exchange program.
Choosing the right plants for the right place
You’ll need to consider factors like light levels, wet and dry areas, and the pH of your soil when choosing what species of plants to buy. If you need help, unlawn experts can create a plan for you.
Biodiversity supports our food systems, clean air, and clean water. Local biodiversity is key to protecting these resources in your community. Communities with plentiful and diverse natural areas enjoy a higher quality of life and a healthier environment.
What is local biodiversity
Local biodiversity is a measure of different types of life in an area. Ecosystems like rainforests are known for having very high levels of biodiversity. And deserts tend to have fewer species overall. However, within a desert ecosystem, biodiversity is higher in areas that are undisturbed or contain additional resources. And in the rainforest, areas closer to towns and roads will be less biologically diverse than average.
Measuring biodiversity is difficult, because it includes plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and all the kingdoms of life. To measure biodiversity, scientists use species richness. Species richness is the number of species that are found in an area. Scientists make a list of all the species that have been observed in the study area and count them.
Comparing species richness across ecosystem types doesn’t account for differences in resources. So, scientists will sometimes use a biodiversity index that can be applied across ecosystems.
Examples of local biodiversity
In different parts of the globe, biodiversity looks different. In the deep south, longleaf pine savannas are home to species that can only live in the sandy, sunny forests, like the gopher tortoise.
The Appalachian Mountains have numerous cold mountain streams that provide habitat for trout and hellbenders.
Along the West Coast, redwood forests contain rare birds like the marbled murrelet.
What are the benefits of local and global biodiversity
Global biodiversity is important because many species play a role in natural processes that benefit humans. From clean air and water to the productivity of soil for agriculture, we rely on biological systems to support life on our planet – life that includes us!
When a species goes extinct, its role in the ecosystem is sometimes left empty. In some cases, another species can step in to do the same role, but not in the same way.
As the number of species on Earth drops each year, how much longer can the globe support life? Ecological systems and processes are threatened by every extinction.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biological diversity allows species to work together to increase the productivity of an area. In nature, competition and cooperation are the defining forces. Greater biological diversity increases the opportunities for both competition among similar species and cooperation between species that play different roles.
Greater cultural diversity can make a city more lively and productive. Similarly, greater biological diversity helps to maximize the productivity in an area. This productivity is measured in the form of ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services include things like food, clean water, clean air, flood prevention, recreation opportunities, and resistance to extreme weather events. One of the clearest examples of ecosystem services is the pollination of farm crops by native bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
How to protect biodiversity
Unfortunately, Earth has now entered it’s 6th mass extinction event. Meaning we are losing species faster than at any other time in recorded history. Global biodiversity outlook analyses show a major decline. So, how can we protect biodiversity? Conservation groups and events like the convention on biological diversity are working to do just that.
University research findings on the subject show us that traditional knowledge and local communities can inform a multinational strategic plan. As we search for ways to improve the global biodiversity outlook, science and data are the key to a sustainable future.
Why does biodiversity need to be protected?
Species extinctions are happening at an unprecedented rate due to human activity. In many places, local biodiversity trends are not great. And in some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems, like the Amazon Rainforest, human activity is destroying the remaining habitat that species depend on. Species have fewer places to live because land is developed or converted to agricultural uses, like pasture.
In many countries, indigenous peoples are fighting to protect both biological diversity and their way of life. Colonialist attitudes and markets change the use and extraction of biological resources. Competing interests, especially in the Global South, have led to a decrease in cultural diversity and biodiversity change. In addition to species loss, globalization has also introduced non native species. Many local communities are losing traditional knowledge while the sudden biodiversity change makes sustainability more difficult than ever.
According to time series data, the implications of biodiversity change are frightening. The global biodiversity outlook is not good. And the research indicates that as the abundance of species declines, so will the productivity of nature.
What does local biodiversity depend on?
The path forward is clear. To protect global biodiversity, ambitious conservation efforts are needed. Renowned conservationist E.O. Wilson proposed protecting at least half of the planet in his groundbreaking book, Half Earth. And the Aichi targets propose a similar, though less ambitious effort along with economic and political contributions into the future.
What is a protected area?
The definition of a protected areas varies by location. Protection can mean the designation of parks and forests, or the use of specific tools like conservation easements. Ultimately, the right kind of protection is up to local communities. Spatial comparisons show that the local biodiversity outlooks improve in protected areas.
How to boost biological diversity
Protection is not always a viable strategy, because biodiversity may already be degraded on a site, especially in the Global North. Many areas need restoration efforts. University and NGO research has shown a positive response in species richness following restoration efforts.
Creating natural habitat at home
Native ecology is the key to making progress in protecting local biodiversity. Many government agencies and NGOs hope to meet goals like the aichi targets creating a strategic plan. But individual landowners are able to treat their property like protected areas today. Local communities and indigenous peoples are connected to the land. And these groups have a vested interest in protecting nature. Ethical stewardship of the land can provide contributions that go beyond political and economic forces.
Rewilding can have a greater impact on local biodiversity depending on the existing level of development. Rewilding is a way to bring nature into local communities and cities where it has been removed. Establishment of small pockets of nature is simple and cheap. Landowners should plant native plants on their land. Native plants evolved to be perfectly adapted to support the existing local biological diversity.
Parks and protected areas
Much of the history of conservation in North America has been reactionary. The science surrounding species loss is mostly reactionary as well. In the United States, parks account for most public interest in conservation. Every state has a department of parks that provide protection for these recreation areas. Many states also have forestry, wildlife, and environmental agencies.
There seems to be a mismatch between the local demand for natural areas and their abundance. Most recreational natural spaces are in remote, rugged terrain. The accessibility of nature for the average American seems to be far below what is needed.
And any public recreation site that is easy to access for a large populated area tends to be overcrowded. As development increases in the future, access to additional recreational areas is desperately needed. Governments will struggle to acquire and manage additional land. Private landowners need access to resources that help them to protect and manage their land. And not just for recreational opportunities, but also to protect the ecological resources on private land.
Local biodiversity progress
Efforts by conservation groups and government agencies have sometimes been successful at saving individual species from extinction. But the implications of climate change on biological systems have not been tested. And we’ve been unable to slow down the Anthropocene extinction event.
We can’t predict the future. Additional time series data and summary analysis will help science to understand the potential futures of our environment. It has been difficult to predict the effects of climate change, but so far they have been very concerning.
Save local biodiversity now
We cannot wait for definitive science before we act to save our planet. Nor can we hope for a technological answer. Conservation of our remaining biological resources is critical, and restoration can boost depleted local biodiversity. Protected areas need additional funding and support, and every lawn is a potential restoration site.
The average homeowner has opportunities to boost their lawn’s biological value. And individuals can contribute to citizen science efforts to improve landscape-scale analyses by their state or local university. But the cultural pressure for development is immense.
We need to change
Housing, shopping, roads, farms, and warehouses are all in high demand in many places. Our priorities need to change. Market forces cannot continue to control how our land is used. Business as usual is no longer leading us toward progress, but rather toward a global ecological collapse. Nature must be front and center in our communities.
Indigenous peoples have largely been ignored in the conservation and restoration communities. And while many efforts are starting to seek contributions from local communities, both local conservation groups and the global community should look to indigenous peoples in their search for ways to live sustainably.
How do we treat the Earth around our homes? What does the grass lawn represent in our culture? And how can we bring habitat home and treat our part of the Earth as an ecosystem?
Should you have wildlife habitat near your home?
Caring for an ecosystem is more complex than just mowing the grass once a week. To restore a healthy ecosystem to your lawn, you’ll have to put in some time, learn new things, and get your hands dirty.
What you give up for habitat
Do you want to convert part of your lawn into a wildlife habitat? Before you start, you should think about what you could be giving up, including:
having a lawn that conforms to your neighbors’ aesthetics
access to a wide open area to walk freely or play
time, which you may need to devote to learning, planting, weeding, or otherwise managing the habitat
If you’re like most Americans, you don’t need a big grass field to walk or play in. But, even if you do, unlawning gradually allows you to keep your grass lawn and create habitat near your home in areas that you use less.
And it’s true that managing this land will take some of your time. But, with some planning it could average out to less time than mowing every week takes. The time you spend researching and planning your habitat at home will translate into reduced maintenance time.
The biggest sacrifice you make by adding habitat is the change of aesthetics. The manicured grass lawn is still associated with wealth and excess of a different age. This association is linked to the first American mansions and estates with owners so wealthy, they could sacrifice good farmland for mowed grass that looked clean and sanitized. Of course, now it is just a symbol of typical suburban living to have a grass lawn. But America hasn’t quite let go of the lawn as a status symbol yet.
Quality habitat near a home
Creating good quality wildlife habitat is easy. The complication with doing it near people is the people, not the ecology. So why is it so difficult, and how can you get around these difficulties to create a habitat at home?
The required components for wildlife habitat
Ecology is an incredibly deep and complex field of study. There is a huge amount of information left to discover about the living world. But we know some basics about creating a habitat for wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation will tell you the only 5 things needed are food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. The technical procedures for each of these requirements are mostly quite simple and accessible to the average homeowner.
You could research and plan for years and still not know enough to guarantee success with your habitat. For an overview of everything you need to know, read The Unlawning Guide. Luckily, mother nature does most of the work of creating wildlife habitat near your home when you unlawn. In the meantime, visit some local forests or other natural areas and pick a small or unused part of your lawn to be your first unlawning experiment.
Boosting habitat quality at home
Once you’ve met the minimum requirements for a wildlife habitat on your first few square feet, you may want to increase the ecological benefits of your habitat. The key here is diversity. You want to have a large variety of native plant species that fill different vertical layers and ecological roles.
If your neighborhood is full of mature trees that are surrounded by lawns, adding more trees might not benefit local wildlife nearly as much as a meadow or prairie. If your neighborhood is all lawn with no forest, you might consider a grove of native fruit trees to increase diversity. It all depends on your local needs and conditions.
Challenges for your home habitat (and how to handle them)
From upset neighbors to unexpected encounters, wildlife habitat can come with some problems. By creating a habitat near your home, you are inviting animals to come into that space. This could include wasps, rodents, snakes, and even coyotes. You may also find some native plants growing that have thorns or cause rashes (like poison ivy).
Pests in the home habitat
While hazardous plants and animals are a legitimate concern, you aren’t in much danger. You’re unlikely to be stung or bit unless you are bothering animals. Some bugs like mosquitos and horseflies may want to prey on you, but you can protect yourself with long sleeves or bug spray. And identifying hazardous plants is an easy skill to learn. In fact, the more time you spend learning and visiting your habitat, the safer you’ll be when interacting with nature. Still, it’s a good idea to leave at least a few yards of buffer between your home and habitat. This helps to protect your home from risks like insect infestations and fire.
But the plants that are most hazardous are the nonnative invasives. Especially if you’re in a city or suburb, the chance of an invasive plant popping up in your home habitat is nearly 100%. Learn to recognize the most common invasive plants in your region and cut them back at least twice a year. Pull them out by the root if you can.
People in the home habitat
Neighbors pose a different type of challenge. Homeowner’s associations have earned a reputation for being pesky and controlling when it comes to landscaping choices. And many cities have lawn maintenance codes that can result in steep fines for tall grass. Finding out what rules apply to your home habitat is a good idea before getting started.
For the best chance of placating neighbors and the authorities about your lawn’s new aesthetic, consider placing a sign. Groups like National Wildlife Federation and Homegrown National Park can provide yard signs for your home habitat. This proves that you intended for the space to look different from the typical landscaping in the neighborhood, and that you are willing to explain your reasoning.
The stewardship ethic
In the conservation world stewardship is a popular concept of caring for the land. The idea of a stewardship ethic emerged in the early 1900’s as the national parks were being created. Stewardship of the Earth implies a responsibility for what happens to it, but not complete control over nature.
Stewardship is about being a good caretaker and neighbor, but also about what you leave behind. When you create a habitat at home, you are stewarding a piece of land that has been mistreated, but is still part of the whole Earth. As our Earth ails from climate change and its 6th mass extinction event, your land has a role to play. Creating habitat at home is one of the most effective ways for individuals to help heal the Earth. And it’s not as hard as you think! Start with an unlawning project this year!