Small Trees For Small Gardens

sugar maple

The most important landscaping the gardener can do for his home and yard is the planting of shade trees.

This is particularly true when yard space is limited, and when small trees for small gardens are required for the landscape plan.

When this condition becomes necessary… the location and choice of trees must be given thorough study.

Why We Plant Trees

We plant trees for several reasons:

  • To frame the home
  • To give balance to the yard
  • For shade in summer
  • For distinctive twig and limb arrangement which add so much to the winter landscape

Good foundation plantings add much to landscape and property values, but often become overgrown through lack of proper care.

Happily this is not true of well selected trees. In them we continue to find beauty in form, flower, leaf and shade for many years.

The placement of trees should be given first consideration.

Trees properly planted should be spaced as to give balance to the home and front yard. Likewise, when planted in the rear yard or outdoor living area, trees create an illusion of depth and make a small yard seem larger.

Studying the Problem

Before any planting is attempted a simple sketch should be made so that definite planting locations can be established.

On either plain or graph paper lay out the boundaries of the property, draw in the outline of the house, garage, drive and walkway.

Indicate relation of house as to north, east, south and west exposure. Views of yard as seen through windows are also important in relating trees to home and lawn areas.

Now lightly pencil in possible locations for the trees. Study the problem from both inside and outside the home.

Long stakes driven into the ground will help one visualize the ideal location for the trees.

Don’t hesitate to revise your thinking while in this planning stage. It will be much easier to erase a few pencil marks or move a stake now than to move a large tree later on.

Plan to use a least one small ornamental tree near the house. For example a clump of white flowering dogwood will compliment a house when planted close to it.

Selecting The Proper Trees

Once we have decided upon the proper location for our trees, we now must choose the proper tree for each location. Generally speaking. we plant a tree for the shade it will provide us.

Probably the most popular shade tree for mid-America homes is the Norway maple (Acer platanoides). This maple is a relatively rapid grower, is easy to transplant and is very hardy.

The tree carries good green foliage all summer and in autumn the leaves turn yellow. The tree casts heavy shade, but selective pruning of branches while the tree develops will allow additional light to filter through the foliage.

Another variety of the Norway maple which is popular is the ‘Crimson King’ Norway maple. This tree has purplish red leaves all summer long. It is very showy and is best used as a specimen or to contrast with green leaved trees.

The Honey Locusts

A group of trees which are popular for planting around small homes is the family of honey locusts. The `Moraine’ honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis ‘Moraine’) has very lacy, delicate foliage.

This permits interesting shade patterns on the lawn or small patio. These trees have neither thorns nor seed pods.

Another form of the honey locust is the ‘Sunburst’ honey locust.

This tree is quite similar in growth habit ‘Moraine’ but differs in having lemon yellow foliage on the growing tips of the branches which contrast with the dark green leaves within the tree.

At a distance the tree appears to be in bloom all summer. Both of these honey locust are favorites for homes.

Although the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) will eventually grow into a large tree, it should be considered a very desirable shade tree.

Not as rapid growing as the other trees we are considering, the native sugar maple is well worth giving space in our yards. Few trees can equal the gorgeous fall coloring of this tree.

This was the favorite tree of the nature essayist, John Burroughs.

Two Sizable Elms

No discussion of shade trees for the small home would be complete without mention of the so called Chinese elm (Ulmus pumila).

This tree is condemned whenever its name is mentioned many times rightly so but it continues to be grown by nurserymen and avidly accepted by most home gardeners.

It does have a place in the yard if quick shade or screening is desired. Many a couple have found shade and satisfaction in their recently planted elm.

It is probably the best of the temporary or “filler” trees, trees to give shade and comfort until the more desirable but slower growing permanent trees become large enough to be effective.

It should be pointed out that the true Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) is much superior to the elm referred to above. This tree differs in having flowers which appear in the fall and in having mottled and scaling bark.

Unfortunately this particular tree is rather invasive.

White flowering dogwood

Form, Flower and Fruit

Our trees should not only offer us shade, but they should be attractive in form, flower and fruit.

In other words they should be ornamental.

Fortunately for the small home owner there is a wealth of ornamental tree material from which to choose. As with all nursery stock, trees are better suited to certain growing areas than others.

The prudent gardener should first consult their local nursery or garden center or county agricultural agent to determine the, best shade and ornamental trees for their particular region.

For most Mid-America gardens the white flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) in either the single stem or clump form would be an excellent choice for both shade and ornament.

Incidentally, nowhere are clump form trees more desirable than when used to accent the small home.

The white birch (Betula pendula) in clump form would be another good choice.

Certainly high on the list of choice trees would be the flowering crab-apples (Malus).

Place these small trees where they can be enjoyed at all times. They make excellent line or screen plantings. Keep such group plants limited to a single variety for a more interesting display.

Few of the maples remain in the small tree class. One which does is the Amur maple (Acer ginnala), an Asiatic species of proven hardiness and all around reliability.

It will mature at about 20 feet, has a low-branching habit with beautiful scarlet fall foliage. This tree lends itself for screening purposes.

Another small tree having interesting foliage is the Russian olive (Elaegnus angustifolia). All summer long the silvery-gray leaves glisten in the sunshine.

Large Shrub Small Trees

Adventurous gardeners might well investigate the use of large growing shrubs and develop these into small trees. Among some of the interesting kinds available are the sweet or nannyberry viburnum (Viburnum lentago).

This plant will grow to 30 feet high, has attractive white bloom in May followed by sweet edible berries which the wild birds relish.

Another shrub of the viburnum family which can be easily trained to a small tree is the wayfaring-tree (Viburnum lantana).

This plant will tolerate dry soil, an important consideration in drought areas. The red to black fruits in August are very effective.

For gardeners who like colored foliage, the purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera atropurpurea) is an especially attractive small tree.

Another form, the Blireiana plum, (Prunus Blireiana), has beautiful double pink flowers in early May and a tree in full bloom makes for one of the highlights of spring.

Where they will grow well the mountain ash (Sorbus Aucuparia) in its European form makes a beautiful specimen tree. Large clusters of bright red berries light up the entire tree in early fall.

Other trees worth considering include the Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) and the cockspur thorn (Crataegus Crus-galli).

Both bear good crops of red berries through the winter. Their horizontal branching habit adds to interesting landscape values.

The Washington thorn has excellent red-orange fall color, while the cockspur has the glossiest green foliage of any of the thorns.

The Japanese flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata) make a beautiful addition to any garden. It has been called the most hardy of the double flowered Oriental cherries.

When in bloom it makes a never-to-be-forgotten sight with its double pink blossoms, each flower suggesting a tiny rose. It has excellent foliage which colors to some extent ill the fall.

The redbud (cercis canadensis) is another favorite small flowering tree. This tree is effective either as a single stem or clump grown form.

The magenta-pink flowered type is most commonly planted, although there is a white flowered variety (alba) available.

There are many choices in the world of small trees for landscaping. Take your time is placing, planning and selection for years of enjoyment.

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