UNITED STATES—When a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does! There is just no one to hear it. Why should that be such a profound question? A falling tree makes a mess too. Anyone who does not see or hear it in action can witness it afterward. Sometimes, roots that were inadequate to support the fallen tree become exposed as well.

There is certainly nothing unnatural about trees falling in forests. Otherwise, forests would be too crowded for new trees or anything else to inhabit. The roots of fallen trees might have been adequate for many decades or centuries, but eventually succumbed to decay and the weight of the canopies they supported and sustained. Trees falling in home gardens are completely different.

Domestic trees (in home gardens) are likely to land on homes, cars, other plants, or anything that happens to be in their way if they fall. Also, they are more likely to have problems with the roots that support them. Regular irrigation needed to sustain other landscape plants promotes rot, and also inhibits deep root dispersion. Excessive irrigation that keeps soil saturated is much worse!

The good news is that, despite their innate disadvantages, domestic trees tend to be shorter, stouter and more stable. With proper maintenance, they seldom fall; or at least they are more likely to get removed before they fall. Buttressed roots that are visible at the surface of the soil might indicate that deeper root dispersion has been inhibited. The best roots are too deep to be seen.

Whether or not buttressed or shallowly dispersed roots limit stability, they can damage pavement, lawns, septic systems, or other features on the surface of the soil. Subterranean utilities and foundations of modern buildings are typically safe, but on rare occasion, can be damaged by the largest sorts of trees. Root barriers divert roots, but those of big trees eventually get around them. Potentially damaging roots can be severed while young, but become more integral to sustaining and supporting as they grow.

Highlight: beech

Compared to crape myrtle, sycamore (London plane) and many other more popular trees, the beech, Fagus sylvatica, is much less problematic, and really deserves more respect. Although it can eventually get almost as big as sycamore, it has remarkably complaisant roots. It is neatly deciduous, defoliating only in autumn, without noticeable floral mess. Disease and pests are rare.

Beech is probably unpopular with landscapers because new trees are a bit more demanding than other tree specie are. (Landscapers prefer easier trees.) Until they disperse their roots, they are more likely to desiccate if they do not get watered regularly enough, and more likely to rot if watered too much. They grow somewhat slowly, so need to be pruned more carefully for a high canopy.

Those of us who tend our own gardens do not mind the extra effort for such a distinctive tree. The handsome foliage can be rich green, coppery bronze, darkly purplish or variegated with white or pink that fades to white. A cultivar with sunny yellow new foliage fades to green by summer. Most beeches have spreading branch structure, but some are strictly vertical or sculpturally pendulous.