Small Trees For Landscaping: Selecting Trees For The Small Garden

Colorful flowers of the Crab Apple tree

There is an excellent group of small trees for landscaping, very ornamental, that do not grow much over 20-25 feet high at maturity.

It is some of these which should be kept in mind when it comes time to select trees for the small place.

Small Garden Ideas #6 – A new homeowner, moving into a small house, faces the problem of selecting plants for their small garden or backyard which will remain in scale with a minimum amount of attention.

This is especially true in selecting small trees for gardens, both the specimen trees planted for beauty and the ones be wishes to plant for shade.

First and foremost, flowering trees are excellent, especially those which have ornamental fruits. Admittedly, there are spots where such trees are undesirable and mere shade trees are wanted, but trees with bright flowers (and fruits if possible) are first on the list for consideration.

The Crab Apples

The oriental crab apples should be given primary consideration, hey are some of the best small trees, for they fill all the qualifications for the small garden.

Many of them seldom grow over 25′ tall. They are available from many nurseries and can be selected by variety, with flowers ranging from pure white to deepest red.

Some are very dense and mounded in habit, like the Arnold crab, Malus arnoldiana. Others are fairly tall and upright like the cut-leaved crab, Malus toringoides, which has such beautiful red and yellow pear-shaped fruits in the Fall. Some are pendulous like the “Pink Weeper”.

The Lemoine crab, Malus purpurea lemoinei, is perhaps the darkest of all in flower, with rich dark-red blossoms followed by purplish-red fruits.

The tea crab, Malus hupehensis, is noted for its picturesque fan-shaped method of branching and is used frequently as a specimen for this purpose.

There are several hundred other crabs being grown in this country, and one would do well to study the colors, forms and fruits of these (some have fruits making excellent jellies) to find just the right one for the right place.

Flowering Dogwoods

The flowering dogwood, Cornus florida, native throughout the eastern United States, is perhaps the one outstanding native American tree for the small garden.

blooming dogwood tree cornus floridacrab apple

Beautiful every season of the year, in flower, in fruit, and in exquisite, scarlet Autumn color, it fits well on the small place, particularly because of its horizontal branching character.

Its Asiatic cousin, Cornus kousa, blooms a month later, and although not as hardy, has many of its good points.

The southern sour-wood, Oxydendrum arboreum, might well be mentioned. Its glossy green, laurel-like leaves are excellent all Summer long.

Its terminal, nodding flower clusters are especially welcome at Summer’s end, when they are followed by some of the most brilliant scarlet Autumn color of any of the woody plants, especially if it is grown in the full sun.

The seed clusters, although not particularly ornamental do add interest to the tree for several months.

The Hawthorns

Two of the hawthorns should be mentioned, namely, the Washington thorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, and the cockspur thorn, Crataegus crus-galli.

The former is upright in habit, bearing white flowers in mid-May and small bright red fruits in the Fall (brilliant red Autumn color as well) which remain on the plant all Winter long.

The cockspur thorn has flowers that are just as good, but its foliage is a glossy green, and its fruits are larger though not as brilliantly colored, nor do they remain on the tree as long.

However, it frequently does have a horizontal branching habit which adds much to its general effectiveness the year around.

Several of the magnolias are desirable, especially the varieties of the saucer magnolia, Magnolia soulangeana, and the star magnolia, Magnolia stellate.

The latter is the hardiest of all the magnolias and is frequently blessed with a bronze Autumn color. The early flowering cherries have been used on small properties, especially the higan cherry, Prunus subhirtella, and the Yoshino cherry, Prunus yedoensis.

The goldenrain tree, Koelreuteria paniculata, might be considered if it is remembered that its large terminal spikes of small yellow flowers that appear in the early Summer, and possibly its conspicuous pod-like fruits, are its only qualities of merit.

The Japanese snowbell, Styrax japonica, could also be considered. It grows twice as broad as it does tall, is very dense in habit, and in May is covered with small, pendulous, bell-like white flowers before the leaves appear, thus giving it a distinctive grace all its own.

For just shade, when bright flowers and fruits are not wanted, the amur maple, Acer ginnala, and one of the hardier forms of the Japanese maples might be suggested.

Image: Dogwood Ryan Somma

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