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Spaces: Tree’s Company

In some parts of the country, like the Pacific Northwest, tree care means removing trees from a property. Here in Amarillo, arborists play a different role. They’re trying to preserve trees. From the soil to the wind to the extremely dry climate, ours is an environment that’s not always welcoming to trees.

 Jake McWhorter is the Texas Panhandle’s only International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) board-certified Master Arborist. Through his company, Jakob Tree Inc., he helps local homeowners feed, trim and otherwise
keep their trees healthy. The extreme cold of this winter was tough on the city’s trees, and McWhorter has been busy.

Despite the weird winter, some trees just aren’t ideal for this environment. McWhorter wants homeowners to put the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. “Trees will generally outlast the planter,” he says. So when choosing to plant a tree, think ahead. Do you want shade or do you want to make a visual statement? How tall might the tree get? Will it grow into any power lines or drop debris into your pool?

“There is a perfect tree or shrub for every location,” says McWhorter. And trees live a long time. So don’t be too hasty putting them in the ground. “Calm down and think about what you need in 50 years—not tomorrow,” he says.

Here are his expert suggestions for the kinds of trees that thrive in this area.

Jake McWhorter

Jake is an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist and the owner of Jakob Tree Inc. Working with trees is Jake’s passon. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children and enjoying the outdoors.

Think twice about these trees:

Anything multi-trunk: Multi-trunk trees look nice, but “a single trunk will always grow taller, faster, and live longer,” McWhorter says.

Cottonwood: These grow fast and, in some West Texas riverbeds, can hit 100 feet tall. The heavy limbs can be dangerous. “I love wild ranch cottonwoods,” McWhorter says. “But they are a hazard within 50 feet of any structure.”  

Ornamental pear: You’ll love the spring flowers produced by these trees, but they’re finicky. “They need constant fertilization,” he says. That can be costly.

Purple robe locust: These are advertised as hardy and drought resistant, but McWhorter says they are prone to split in our climate. “I’ve never seen one make it to maturity,” he says bluntly.

Pin oak: This tree impersonates a hardy Texas Red Oak, but don’t be fooled. It’s intolerant of our soil.

Maple: This isn’t Canada, McWhorter says, so beware. These are “oh-so-pretty but oh-so-expensive to feed,” he says. They don’t love the Panhandle soil.  

Ash: Local boring insects love all varieties of this tree, and the deadly emerald ash borer has made its way to Texas from Asia. That makes ash trees a strong “Don’t plant.”  

Hackberry: McWhorter loves the wild version of this tree as much as he loves wild cottonwoods. “But they are prone to root rot at maturity,” he says. 

Siberian elm: “Let’s just call this the Wolflin elm,” says McWhorter about the neighborhood where they’re most prominent. Beautiful and fast-growing, they can be brittle at maturity.  

Fruit trees: McWhorter is ambivalent about these trees, regardless of the fruit. “Go ahead and try them,” he says. “They get borers and rarely produce fruit in our area.”  

Black walnut: Native to East Texas, these large trees can become brittle at maturity and therefore don’t tend to survive long.  

Austrees: This hybrid willow grows fast, making it great for windbreaks on farms—but little else. “They grow way too fast and break like willows,” McWhorter says. “Just don’t.”