The 10 Best Trees For The Piedmont Region

Published: September 25, 2014

I have been a Certified Master Gardner in the Piedmont Region for the last 9 years. I have a particular affinity for trees. Here are some of the reason for my love of trees...

By strategically planting trees, you can promote energy efficiency to save energy. In urban areas, the same trees that reduce stormwater runoff can improve local air, soil and water quality.

Saving Energy:  Trees modify climate and conserve energy use in two main ways.

·         Shading reduces the amount of heat absorbed and stored by built surfaces.

·         Evapotranspiration converts liquid water to water vapor thus cooling the air. (Nature’s AC).

Air Quality:  Trees improve air quality in three main ways.

·         Absorbing carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide through leaf surfaces.

·         Intercepting small particulate matter such as dust, ash, pollen and smoke.

·         Releasing oxygen produced from photosynthesis

Water Quality: Trees improve water quality and reduce runoff in .

·         Leaves and branch surfaces intercept and store rainfall.

·         Roots increase the rate at which rainfall infiltrates soil and increases the soil’s capacity to store water.

·         Tree canopies and roots reduce soil erosion by diminishing the impact of raindrops and locking the soil in place


Though the focus above was on practical reasons to plant trees, there is the added benefits of beauty and noise reduction for urban landscapes.

With that in mind, I have selected my top 10 choices for trees for the Piedmont.

  1. Crape Myrtle (lagerstoemia indica)

    Deciduous, Moderate growth, Up to 25 feet, Variety of summer flowers, Fall color, Shade, Drought tolerant

    The Crape Myrtle is my top pick for many reasons. Beauty of course rates very highly. However, it is the low maintanence aspect of this hardy beauty that makes it a winner for even the most inept gardener. Other than pruning of "suckers" that come up on young crapes, there are few problems to be had.

    Aphids (soft-bodied, pear-shaped, insects a little bigger than the head of a pin) can be an issue. They are easily cleared by spraying the underside of leaves with water three times, once every other day, in the early morning. If they were to persist, the addition of insecticidal soap every two to three days will usually end an infestation. Try to avoid more powerful insecticides to avoid killing off any bees or butterflies.

    Powder Mildew (a fungal disease that coats the leaves with a white powder) can stunt leaves in early spring. Generally, the infected leaves will drop off and the tree will recover when the hot weather of summer arrives. The best option is to ensure that you plant in an airy location with plenty of sun. If desired, spray trees with lime sulfur in early spring as the buds break. Repeat this spray 2 weeks later. There are also several Mildew resistant varieties available (`Biloxi', `Miami', and `Wichita').

    All in all. If the crape is planted in an airy location that has plenty of sun, it grows with little to no attention to give a beautiful summer display

  2. Red Maple (acer rubrum)

    Deciduous, Rapid growth, Up to 75 feet, Fall color, Shade, Food/shelter for wildlife

    This beautiful, grand tree has some similar issues as the crape myrtle. The same remedies apply. However, once the tree has reached a larger size these treatments are not practical for home owners.

    The best thing you can do for your trees to protect them from maple tree diseases is to take good care of them before they develop a disease. That means water regularly, fertilize annually, keep the area around the trees clean, prune when necessary and seek help immediately if you notice your tree looking ill or having problems.

  3. Pecan (carya illinoensis)

    Deciduous, Moderate growth, Up to 100 feet, Edible nuts, Shade, Food/shelter for wildlife

    This staple of the south is dependent on water. Mature bearing trees require two inches per week. In order to properly water a pecan tree the water should be applied out at the edge of the branches, at the drip line. Applying  the water in close to the tree trunk does not provide the tree any benefit. When the trees become stressed they go into a self preservation mode. The pecans drop off first. If the stress continues the leaves drop off next.

    Also, ensure the tree is planted in rich, moist, but well draining soil. As a nut bearing tree, they require a lot of nutrients. If the tree is not planted in rich soil, no amount of additional fertilizer will overcome a defeciency.

  4. Eastern Redbud (cercis canadensis)

    Deciduous, Rapid growth, Up to 30 feet, Pink spring flowers, Shade, Attracts bees 

    The Redbud is a native tree to the region. They are susceptible to several fungal diseases. Most are easily avoided by planting in an airy location. If any are persistent, a spraying of a copper solution usually remedies quickly.

    There are a few pests that may attack your redbud. A simple spray of insecticidal soap every couple of days will remove them.

  5. Flowering Dogwood (cornus florida)

    Deciduous, Moderate growth, Up to 30 feet, White spring flowers, Fall color, Shade, Attracts bees, Food for wildlife

    Small rodents sometimes gnaw bark off dogwood trunks. This may allow diseases to invade the tree. Delay spreading mulch over the root zone until well into winter, This forces rodents to nest elsewhere. Keep mulch away from the trunk base and keep the area clear of weeds and grass. If necessary wrap the base of the trunk with a guard of 1/4-inch hardware cloth or other protective wrap made to protect young tree trunks.

    Dogwoods have some of the same fungal issues as crapes and redbuds with the same solutions. However, Dogwood decline can be a major problem. Since 1977,  a dogwood decline disease has been steadily spreading throughout the Mid-Atlantic states. It has been determined to be a fungus (Discula sp.), whose appears to be spread by damp spring and fall weather. The first signs are that a lot of the leaves will not drop off in the fall. Then in the spring, flowering dogwoods develop sunken spots on the leaves. Small end twigs die back and sometimes trunk cankers develop. Progressive twig dieback in the lower part of the tree signals advanced decline and is often accompanied by borer attacks. A tree in advanced stages of decline may die within 2 seasons. However, carefully pruned cared for, it might live 4 or 5 more years. Then it will need to be taken down

  6. Eastern Red Cedar (juniperus virginiana)

    Evergreen, Moderate growth, Up to 50 feet, Drought tolerant, Aromatic foliage and wood, Food/shelter for wildlife, Wind break, Privacy, Noise reduction

    Easter Red Cedars are susceptible to some pests, although they are not generally serious in any way. This native tree can be infested by bagworm caterpillars or juniper webworms. The bagworms can be easily picked of by hand. Or for either, you can spray with insecticidal soap. The generally do not cause great harm to the tree.

    Cedar-apple rust can affect trees, but can be managed by simply pruning out the horns they form in the spring.  It is also best to plant several hundred yards from hawthorns, apples and crab apples.


  7. Sycamore (platanus x acerifolia)

    Deciduous, Rapid growth, Up to 90 feet, Peeling bark, Shade, Shelter for wildlife

    The only major concern with the native Sycamore is anthracnose, also known as blight and scorch.  It is caused by a fungus which is stimulated by frequent rainy weather and cool temperatures. The first symptom is obvious early in the spring when individual or small clusters of leaves suddenly turn brown and die before they fully emerge. Later, developed leaves show triangular dead spots between their veins. Then cankers, or sunken infected spots with raised edges appear on twigs and leaf stalks, girdling them, thus killing them. They drop and the tree is defoliated for a time during the early summer until a second flush of foliage finally appears. The severity of an attack is linked to temperature. If temperatures hover between 50°F and 55°F, the infection will be the most severe.


    One attack of this disease does not cause serious harm, but repeated each year, it weakens trees to the point where they become victims of borers or winter injury. Large established trees can handle the infection on their own. However younger trees should be treated. Be sure to collect and discard all fallen leaves, twigs, and other tree debris from under and around the tree to prevent spread of the fungal spores. Prune off any visibly infected twig or branch. Spray healthy foliage with a garden sulfur fungicide labeled for this use and use it according to label instructions. It will likely specify three sprays - once when the leaves begin to appear, again when they are fully unfurled, and finally 2 weeks after that. Fertilize and water young trees to maintain their vigor.

  8. Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

    Deciduous, Fast growth, Up to 20 feet, Purple flowers in summer, Shade, Attracts butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

    The Chaste tree has few issues. However, one is major. Phytophthora root and crown rot is caused by species of soil-borne phytophthora fungal pathogens, this disease spreads in water and on equipment. Phytophthora root and crown rot results in dried, wilted leaves that often discolor to yellow, green or red hues before dying.
    For phytophthora root and crown rot, the best solution is to sterilize pruning tools between each cut to decrease disease spread. Also, keep weeds under control and create raised beds if drainage is a consistent issue. In conjunction with these natural control methods, spray chaste trees with a fungicide with the active ingredient fosetyl-al for chemical control early in the growing season or as a pre-emergent.

  9. Fig Tree (Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey')

    Deciduous, Moderate growth, Up to 15 feet, Edible fruit, Attracts wildlife.

    In many parts of the upper South, fig trees can be injured by early or late frosts that kill younger twigs. A major freeze can kill the plant all the way to the ground. The death of many or few branches will not directly cause any serious loss in production for next summer. However, if not pruned, the dead branches may serve as a site for secondary fungi to get started. At any time of the year, all dead twigs and limbs should be pruned from the tree.


    Birds may feed heavily on figs just as they become ripe. One solution is to pick early in the morning to decrease bird damage. Netting is also available to protect fig bushes from feeding by birds, but can become impractical if the tree is large.  

  10. Foster’s Holly (Ilex x attenuata 'Fosteri')

    Evergreen, Slow growth, Up to 30 feet, Winter berries, Food/shelter for wildlife, Wind break, Privacy, Noise reduction

    Foster's Holly are resistant to pests and disease. They do require rich, well drained acidic soil. Other than that very little issues from this beauty.

The Crape Myrtle is and always will be my favorite. It is a perfect tree based on size for most urban yards. Adding summer beauty and shade, while allowing the sunlight to warm during the winter months.