Best Trees for Building a Treehouse

You’ve decided to build a treehouse, and the kids are understandably excited, but before you begin, it’s critical to find the best tree for safety reasons. To build the best treehouse, you’ll need a tree with the right branch structure that can support it. The tree must be placed in an appropriate location, away from roadways and other hazards, and it must not be subjected to high winds that cause it to sway violently. Furthermore, a mature tree with deep roots is ideal for a treehouse because a treehouse will not last long if built on a young tree that is still growing quickly.

The best tree for your treehouse project must also be healthy, which may necessitate some assistance. Different tree species are susceptible to different pests and diseases, and not all arboreal maladies are visible to the untrained eye. Once you’ve decided on the right tree for you, have it inspected by a trained arborist who will be able to identify damage caused by burrowing insects or fungal diseases that can weaken branches.

Another factor to consider is the effect your treehouse will have on the tree. Bolts and brackets will be used to secure the treehouse to the trunk and branches, which will injure the tree, though the injuries will heal. However, the tree will compartmentalize the injury by sealing it off while growth continues around it, eventually disfiguring the tree. You may not want this to happen to your prized backyard oak.

Considerations Before Building Your Treehouse

Building a treehouse, like any major project, involves several factors that must be considered. It is not uncommon to see homeowners rush into building a treehouse, perhaps out of excitement or pressure from their children, without first considering some critical factors. Building a treehouse without a proper plan can result in a variety of unfavorable outcomes. Among them are the following:

  1. The tree has been damaged.
  2. Fines or prosecution for violating county/state ordinances
  3. Injuries to the treehouse occupants
  4. Injury to those beneath the treehouse
  5. Death is a possibility.

So, what are these factors that must be carefully considered before beginning to build your treehouse?

Let’s go over them one by one.

1. Safety

The safety of your family or any other inhabitants of the house must be the first consideration when building your treehouse. The safety of those in the immediate vicinity of the treehouse must also be considered.

Make certain that the treehouse is constructed with the best materials available. Remember that a treehouse is subjected to a variety of weather conditions on a daily basis.

If it is not well-built, it will crumble under the weight of people and the elements. The result is one that is better imagined than stated.

2. The State of the Tree

Is the tree under consideration young or old? Is it strong and healthy? Before you build a treehouse, you must ask yourself these questions. Young, growing trees are not ideal for a treehouse. Choose mature, thickly branched trees that are firm and deeply rooted. In addition, the tree should be resistant to pest infestation, insects, and fungus.

3. The Tree’s Binomial Nomenclature

Deciduous trees are notorious for losing their leaves in the winter or fall. They are also known for their slow growth and dense, strong wood. These trees are ideal for treehouses because their toughness can withstand the weight of the structure. Oak trees, as well as Cedar, Hemlock, and Apple trees are excellent choices for treehouse construction.

The trees mentioned above typically grow to be quite large and quite strong. They can also withstand year-round pressure from various weather conditions.

4. Local Ordinances/Laws

Whether we like it or not, a treehouse is a structure constructed on pre-existing land. As a result, it is recommended that you check your State/County building codes before proceeding. Although most counties do not require permits for small backyard treehouses, permits are required for larger, more complex treehouses.

However, this varies from state to state. As previously stated, check with your city’s building codes first. This ensures that you are not in violation of any building codes.

5. How Big Should the Tree Be?

The size of the tree will be determined by the size of your treehouse and the location you choose. The diameter of the tree should be around 8’x8″ or 12″ for the average treehouse.

If you’re only going to use one tree, you might want to go with a thicker diameter. A thicker diameter is also required if the treehouse is heavier than usual, which will depend on the type of wood used to build it and, of course, the features that you choose to incorporate.

Allow your imagination to run wild and explore all the possibilities that building a treehouse provides once you’re confident in the safety of the tree and the construction of your treehouse. Imagine the treehouse of your dreams and figure out how to make it a reality. Anything is possible for your construction as long as you adjust your desires to your capabilities.

Building a treehouse can be an art form, so you can incorporate features such as climbing walls, zip lines, and slides to create a one-of-a-kind and super fun treehouse for everyone to enjoy!

Choosing the Best Tree for a Treehouse on Your Property

Consider other factors to help you choose the best tree if you have more than one tree on your property with the right structure for a treehouse. Do you think the tree is valuable? If this is the case, find another one because your treehouse project will damage it. Similarly, avoid trees in high-traffic areas in favor of those in less-trafficked areas.

Your city or homeowners’ association may have restrictions on where you can build a treehouse, and many do not permit them in front-yard trees (more visibility and accessibility make treehouses enticing to trespassers). Keep in mind that there will be a lot of little feet trampling the ground around the tree’s base, so fragile ground cover and even grass may struggle to survive.

Once you’ve identified a likely candidate, you’ll want to look for signs of pests and disease, which may necessitate some investigation. Look up common pests and diseases for the tree species and take note of the signs of damage they cause. Oak trees, for example, are susceptible to anthracnose, a fungal infection that can weaken the tree and render it unfit for use; brown blotches on the bark are one of the symptoms of this condition. A maple tree surrounded by sawdust and showing loss of leaves at the crown may have an Asian long-horned beetle infestation, which will only last a year or two.

In general, any liquid seeping from the ends of branches, as well as patchiness, discoloration, or unusual leaf loss, is cause for concern. If you suspect pests or diseases in your tree, the best thing you can do is have it inspected by an arborist, who may recommend cutting it down to prevent the condition from spreading. If this is the case, you may have lost that tree for your treehouse project, but you may also have saved the rest of the trees on your property from the same fate.

Best Trees for Building a Treehouse

1. The Douglas Fir

Although the Douglas fir is a softwood as a species, it is also a sturdy and robust choice for a treehouse foundation. Pete Nelson, the owner and operator of Nelson Treehouse in Washington State, as well as the host of the show Treehouse Masters, considers this species to be one of his favorites for his projects.

Because the Douglas fir is not related to true fir trees, it has a higher level of resilience. In some climates, it can reach a height of 250 feet, with spreading branches that are thick and supportive for building opportunities. This tree’s bark is also quite thick, making it easier to install support bolts for framing. 

Because these trees tend to grow next to each other in close proximity, the size and circumference of the main trunk provide you with more options for your treehouse design.

Even the cones produced by the Douglas fir are small, not dissipating to spread seeds as a true fir would. They stay on the tree until late summer and then continue to hang until autumn, reducing the amount of mess you have to clean around the outside of your treehouse.

2. Maples Trees

Most maple tree species are classified as either hard or soft hardwood, making them ideal for treehouse construction. If you have Bigtooth, Rocky Mountain, or Maples trees on your property, these are excellent choices to consider. Each of these options can provide you with strong taproots that will keep the structure anchored while also providing a level of flexibility that will allow the treehouse to move slightly in strong winds.

Most Maple trees can reach a maximum height of 150 feet, though some species can only reach about 33 feet when fully developed. If you want to build a treehouse, you should avoid the shrub varieties of this species because their small trunks and small size (10 feet or less) could be problematic.

Because the wood of these Maple species is so dense, the trees can support a more massive load when the support beams are placed correctly. That means your treehouse can be more spacious, allowing you to entertain more guests within the structure.

If you have a Sugar or Mountain Maple on your property, you can even use the tree to make your maple syrup. Hard Maple lumber has a commercial service life of up to 100 years, so this durability will help a new treehouse last for multiple generations.

3. Trees of Acacia

If you live in a warm climate, you may have Acacia trees on your property that would be ideal for a treehouse. The only drawback to this hardwood is that the tree’s lifespan is somewhat limited. These trees grow quickly, but they only live for about 30 years on average. This means that this option is not suitable for those looking to construct something permanent.

There is also an interesting relationship between stinging ants and Acacia trees that can make them unsuitable for building in certain conditions. The majority of the species in this group have long thorns that protect the main trunk and can be difficult to work around. If you can work around these issues, your treehouse will be anchored to one of the most fire-resistant species.

If you live in a harsh climate that supports Acacias, this species may be the only option for building on your property. Before making a decision, carefully consider the risks of a pest infestation in a treehouse.

4. The Oak Tree

It doesn’t get much better for a treehouse builder than a grove of oak trees. Every version is classified as solid hardwood, which means you’ll get the best support possible. You might even discover that it only takes a few strong options to create a stunning structure that you can use for many years.

The good news is that the oak tree is one of the most common species found in North America. Although there may be several different varieties on your property, they can be divided into two primary prototypes. There are two kinds of oaks: red oaks and white oaks.

Despite the fact that they are all members of the beech tree family, an oak tree has a distinct appearance. There are approximately 70 species in North America that grow taller than a bush classification, with many of them grown for their highly commercialized wood. When considering this option on a global scale, there are over 600 different species that could be suitable for a treehouse.

Because of their sturdiness, oak trees are well-suited to the construction process, with their thick trunks providing almost unparalleled stability. This species also has a high level of tannic acid in its leaves and bark, so you should have fewer problems with fungi growth and insect infestations after the treehouse is finished. Their bark is also exceptionally thick to protect against fire and disease, which adds to the strength of your anchors.

Oak trees typically reach a height of about 80 feet, which also corresponds to the size of their canopy at full stretch. This design provides an exceptional amount of shade while not interfering with the view from your treehouse.

5. Western Red Cedar Trees

Because of its overall size, this option is a popular choice for a new treehouse if you live in the Pacific Northwest or the Rocky Mountain region of the United States. This tree grows quickly, reaching a mature height of around 180 feet. The circumference of the trunk at the base can be enormous (up to 13 feet), providing incredible support for the structures that a builder can add.

The Falls Treehouse, which was featured on Ultimate Treehouses with Pete Nelson, is one example of a treehouse built with Western red cedar supports. It is not a true cedar tree, but the canopy structure provides a lot of dense shade. When these trees grow together, they usually only have a crown at the top. This structure makes it very simple to prepare the tree for construction.

The bark of this tree is both fibrous and longitudinally fissured, making it a favorite among treehouse builders. As a result, creating the foundational supports required to build at whatever scale is desired for a project is a simple process.

This species is also known to live for a very long time, with the oldest known Western red cedar being over 1,400 years old. This means that a treehouse supported by this species can be a permanent addition to any property.

6. Ash Tree

Even though ash trees are not as dense as other varieties, they are a popular choice for treehouses in the upper Midwest of the United States. Because the trunk of this species is typically wide and supportive, you can often build with a single tree without much difficulty. With this option, you don’t always need a full tree to complete a treehouse project.

If you are using a single tree for your project, the ash tree’s trunk diameter should be greater than 12 inches for a successful experience. Before you begin, make sure the tree has been inspected to ensure its health. Disease and infestation are usually not major issues with this species, but you should make sure that the soil around the tree is well-drained and not compacted.

7. Cherry Blossoms

A cherry tree’s hardwood nature makes it an excellent choice for a treehouse if it is large enough to support the overall weight of the structure. Most of these trees will reach a mature height of 12 to 15 feet. Sweet cherry trees are a little taller, reaching heights of more than 20 feet. These trees’ spread is usually equal to their height.

Although cherry wood is not as hard as other hardwoods, it is particularly resistant to decay and rot in the center of the trunk. It also has above-average shock load resistance without being overly burdensome to the construction process. You may not be able to build a treehouse with significant height above the ground, but you will be able to have a structure that is well-supported while requiring only a small amount of maintenance each year.

Then there are the blooms that a cherry tree will provide all around the treehouse each spring.

8. The Hemlock Tree

Without a doubt, the Hemlock tree is one of the best trees for treehouses available. The tree comes in a variety of species, but the two most common are the eastern hemlock and the western hemlock. Many species of hemlock trees can be found in the United States, Canada, and parts of Asia.

The hardness of the wood is one of the most important and useful characteristics of the hemlock tree. The wood of the hemlock tree becomes harder as its ages. This makes it an ideal choice for lumberjacks, as well as treehouses. Hemlock wood is widely used in furniture, paneling, and flooring throughout the United States.

The Hemlock tree can live for up to 200 years. It takes 20 to 40 years for them to begin producing fruit from their pinecones.

This tree can also grow very tall, reaching heights of up to 150 feet.

Other than its strong wood, the Hemlock tree has commercial value. Tannic acid is produced by the bark, which can make the leather softer and more durable. The Hemlock tree also yields vitamin-C-rich Pine needle tea.

Can Treehouses Be Harmful to Trees?

The answer is YES, treehouses can cause tree damage. Although the damage caused by a treehouse to the tree is almost as minor as the damage caused by pruning. Read our guide on How to Build a Treehouse Without Damaging the Tree here.

The truth is that walking around a tree compresses the soil. Remember that the tree’s roots are attempting to absorb much-needed nutrients through the air pockets that were open before you stepped on the soil and compressed it.

Another way a treehouse harms the tree is by digging holes and screwing pins to the treehouse’s support posts. This removes some of the tree’s absorbing roots.

Finally, the weight of the treehouse exerts some strain on the tree. This is why large, strong, deeply rooted trees make excellent treehouse candidates.

The damage a treehouse cause is insignificant because the tree continues to thrive hundreds of years after the treehouse is built.

Nonetheless, treehouses are not natural, and they will not be built without a few scars here and there.

Frequently asked questions

How do I know how old my tree is?

The simplest way to determine tree age is to cut it down and count the number of rings, but this is obviously impractical for the treehouse builder. An aborist or tree surgeon can take a core to count the rings without killing the tree, though they can usually give you a rough idea based on the size and appearance of the tree. It is not necessary to know the age of the tree for the purposes of treehouse construction; the physical size is far more useful in determining strength.

How can I tell if my tree is in good health?

Basic symptoms of the disease include several dead branches close together, patchy leaves on branch extremities, leaf discoloration, and liquid oozing from the bark. If you have any doubts, you should consult an arborist/tree surgeon to ensure the health of your treehouse. Building near a tree can harm its root structure by breaking/damaging parts of the root network and compacting the soil which reduces drainage and air permeability. The land around a tree can be especially damaging because the roots that were previously close to the surface are deprived of oxygen and the soil may become compacted, reducing drainage.

Is it okay if I bolt all the way through the tree?

Yes, but it is not required. Large lag bolts are widely available and can be used to support treehouse beams with only one hole in the tree. Drilling through the trunk necessitates the use of extremely long drill bits.