5 small trees: can you make room for 1?

stewartia-bloomsIS THERE ROOM FOR ANOTHER TREE in your landscape, if it’s a small one? I seem to always be trying to make more room in mine. As you head out nursery-shopping, perhaps this list of some of my favorites will help focus the treasure hunt. They all have something in common: multiple seasons of interest; no one-trick ponies or flashes in the pan on this list. And the winners are…

With surprisingly timed summer flowers, hot fall foliage and handsome, peeling bark to recommend it, Stewartia pseudocamellia (top) is a treasure. It grows happily even in part-shade, and reaches about 25 feet here. Read its profile.

Perhaps the smallest tree I grow (maybe 5 feet tall and 9 feet across at present) is an oddball weeping Kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Lustgarten Weeping,’ which stirred some controversy at A Way to Garden when I almost sent it packing last spring, after years of non-love for it. I relented, and made it a proper home of its own, as you said you desired.

Another small Kousa, perhaps the best, is the variegated one called ‘Wolf Eyes,’ just 6 or so feet tall and 10 feet wide. It’s like a beacon, even from a distance, with white-edged foliage and all the other kousa-dogwood traits: big white spring flowers, large red high-summer-into-fall fruits, and foliage that warms up as it prepares to fade and drop in fall.

ralph-shay-crabI’m crazy about crabapples, with their springtime show but most of all their fall-into-winter fruit that the birds and I adore. My favorite red-fruited one (above), ‘Ralph Shay,’ is hard to find, with bright red crabapples big enough to poach. Among gold-fruited kinds, I like ‘Bob White,’ whose small yellow crabapples don’t get all brown and mushy, but mellow instead to a sort of butterscotch color; not gleaming, but nice enough. Both trees probably reach 20 feet.

aesculus-pavia-up-on-the-hill.jpgAlmost nobody seems to grow Aesculus pavia, with its vivid red chestnut-like flowers (above) that come mid May onward in my Zone 5B garden, where it lives on the hill far above the house.

The red buckeye is native to the coastal plain of North Carolina but quite hardy for me. It is a shrubby small tree, perhaps 12-15 feet high and wide, and leafs out early with chestnut-like foliage. I know I promised that every plant in this list has multiple seasons of interest, and maybe this doesn’t…but red flowers? Can’t we give it extra-credit for having red flowers—how many temperate-zone trees can offer that? If you push for more, I’ll say the red buckeye’s blooms are followed by large brown seed capsules (called buckeyes), but I don’t think wildlife eat them and frankly, they are more a curiosity item than an ornamental trait.

What other small trees do I covet? We’ll see what comes home in the pickup with me when I head out shopping before too long.

  1. Deirdre says:

    A small tree I plan on making room for is variagated pagoda dogwood. My house came with a giant walnut tree in back. Pagoda dogwood is supposedly juglone tolerant. The growth habit is so graceful, and the silver varagation should light up the shade.

    It probabaly doesn’t count as small, but when we plant our “back forty”, I will have several White Himalayan birches back planted with western red cedar. The trunks should GLOW in front of the cedar.

  2. I need not only small trees for my small urban lot–I’ve got a Royal Purple Smoke Tree–but I’ve found columnar varieties to fit in well–I have rocket Junipers and a columnar apple tree. Small is good.

  3. Marion says:

    I love three small trees. One, the Winterberry, you have already discussed. Disanthus cercidifolius gets the most gorgeous colored leaves in the Fall! It’s in the witchhazel family so the tiny flowers appear in the Fall, too. And, sadly, I have lost my Laburnam this Spring after about 20 years. The beautiful long yellow flowers make a great show in the Spring. Doesn’t like the Summer heat.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Marion (on the birthday of my only sister, Marion). Yes, I think of the Ilex and Disanthus as shrubs; I grow lots of the former, of course. I always liked Disanthus, and now they say it’s hardy here…hmmm…might have to go find one. Sorry for your Laburnum.

  4. frog princess says:

    Have you considered Franklinia alatamaha? My sister raves about it, and I’m curious if you’ve got one or seen one. There is such a charmingly odd, almost unheimlich story that goes with its discovery: http://www.bartramsgarden.org/franklinia/
    Rather southern Gothic, I think, to lose an entire species and to have accidentally stumbled upon and saved a specimen. It’s as if the stand of trees were in some sort of arboreal Brigadoon!

  5. Donna Baker says:

    Thank you so much for you comments on my blog. I have been a huge fan for so long. In fact, when I saw your name I thought, the Margaret Roach? This year besides my vegetable garden, I am planting all edibles; fruit and nut trees. Oh yes, and a few shrubs, flowers, bulbs…well, you know how it is.

  6. sarah patterson says:

    On order from Broken Arrow nursery in Hamden Ct. to be picked up in just a few weeks, are: Betula nigra Little King, Cornus Controversa Variegata, Halesia Uconn Wedding Bells, Stewartia and Styrax Obbasia. I love Crabapples and planted one last summer but now will have to try to find the two you wrote of. I also put in last summer a Cornus Florida, Acer Griseum and Cham Nook. Unfortunetly my neighbors dead pine tree fell on the Cham and since the pine was huge and it took me awhile to find someone to cut it up I don’t know if my Cham is going to make it. I just moved here in zone 5a last summer so am waiting somewhat impatiently to get going, of course I also have on order lots of other goodies from Broken Arrow, and will hit Olivers in Fairfield when I am in Ct. for my Dad’s 87 birthday. go dad! Thank you Margaret for this site and can’t wait to see your gardens on the conservancy tour.

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Frog Princess, and yes, I have pondered Franklinia…but never fallen for it (at least not yet). Now I see that they are even breeding crosses with it and other things (intergeneric hybrids with plants in another genus altogether). When I was younger I would have had to see and try them all. Sigh. Now maybe I will just buy another crabapple, which the birds vote for every time I put a ballot out here to get their help deciding. :)

    Welcome, Donna Baker. Ha! THE Margaret Roach…well, only the same one I’ve been for a lot of years, but no other promises beyond that. And yes, I do “know how it is.” It’s addictive, and out of control here, too. Or about to be if this wintry weather ever ceases.

    @Sarah…uh-oh, you are in deep. My sympathies (and those are all amazing choices from an amazing nursery, Broken Arrow). You definitely need to attend our 12-Step Program here.

  8. Jayne Rogers says:

    Small trees are a good idea for me after 30 years of gardening, and one down size from 4 acres to 2. But I couldnt resist planting my cladastris lutea – grown from seed collected at Bartram Garden on a visit there a dozen years ago. (Lots of fun to propagate – 24 hours of seed boiling!) It came with me in a pot when I moved, and I planted it here, knowing I won’t see its full majesty, but someone will! As a small 6 foot tree it fills the bill as a small tree, at least in my life time! Thank you Margaret for the reminder about Franklinia – I am going to look for it. ANother good small tree to plant, which my dearest octogenarian gardener friend gave me as a present a year and a half ago – heptacodium. I admired its white Fragrant flowers in her garden, and hope that its fast growth will bring that fragrance to my garden soon!

  9. Miss Whistle says:

    I am so happy to have found this site. It’s beautiful and informative. I love the can-do pruning advice. Thank you and I wish you had a west coast branch (no pun intended).
    I have added you to my blog roll so that all my friends can benefit too.

  10. margaret says:

    Welcome, Miss Whistle; you are very kind. I do have many good gardening friends out your way, but none of them blogging. Hmmm…. See you soon again.

    @Jayne: Seed-boiling? I am thinking that you are even madder than I am about this “hobby” of ours. And thanks for the Heptacodium reminder…I should photograph it this year at various seasons and write about it.

  11. woody plant girl says:

    Being a native Oklahoman but being held hostage in another state, I love the Oklahoma redbud. The leaves are glossier than the species, and the buds darker, but they look lovely mixed in with the species. I also love the pragense viburnam which I limb up. The glossy leaves take quite a beating in the hell hole I call Kansas, (high heat, often bone chilling winter temps) and keep on giving back.

  12. Keith says:

    I love your site and my Stewartia. Planted one 5 years ago that was not much more than a stick and it is now over 8 feet and one of the joys of my garden. Your post prompted me to order the Franklinia I have been craving and get it in the ground pronto. Thank you for the inspiration!

  13. margaret says:

    Welcome, Woody Plant Girl. I have been to Oklahoma (given garden lectures there) and I have to say, it looks like tough garden country (maybe not so tough as you describe Kansas!). I grow the Viburnum you mention, too….good reminder, sort of shrubby but as you say can be limbed up. See you soon again.

    Welcome, Keith. Uh-oh, now I am causing others to buy Franklinias…I am a troublemaker. Actually, let’s blame Frog Princess. :) Do visit again soon, and tell us more about your new acquisitions.

  14. Masdeleine says:

    After all those seemingly endless years with gardeners just focusing on the latest-greatest perennials and coleus this focus on trees is just simply glorious and sooooo refreshing – and good to hear the reference to Franklinia – it is not necessary to just plant “small” trees – let ‘er rip, I said, as I planted 6 redwood trees on my urban lot. If the next owner finds their scale too large they can cut them down to 6 feet and make a beautiful hedge – redwoods, hedged, look like yew hedges.

  15. Kathy says:

    How I would love a Cham Nook! I planted one here, NE Wisconsin, but it did not survive its first winter! This was an especially cold winter for us and it turned a dreadful color of orange/brown. I will try one more time with another but try to create a micro climate for it. I am always pushing the zonal boundaries (Zone 4 here). My Acer griseum in place for three years is thriving; my Dawn Redwood…just hanging on. I can always find room for another tree but anything other than zone 4 really need a micro climate created for it. I think that is what makes it a joy and challenge… to try to out wit ‘Mother nature’!

  16. benjia says:

    Help!I in Lakeville, CT. where my dwarf cypresses died ( no tears for them..big mistake) and I want to plant small trees on the north side of my house where they stood. Anyone have something to share with me..benjia

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Benjia. So you are saying Zone 5Bish and shade, or at least half-day shade, no? How small is small (could we consider a large shrub instead of a small tree)? Need a liottle more info to offer suggestions…what dimensions of square footage and also height are you talking about?

  17. benjia says:

    Margaret- Thanxs so much for taking an interest. There are overhead lines ( electricity etc.) to consider and the foot print on the ground looks like 3′-4’square but there is room for girth as it grows; not too wide . The height should not exceed 10 to 12 feet. Of course we could consider a shrub..fast growers are appreciated..I collect social security and want to be around for the fun! benjia
    *****it isn’t deep shade..some afternoon sun

  18. Carole Edie Smith says:

    Hi Margaret,
    I saw and heard you at the spring Cooperative Ext. workshops. I enjoyed and was inspired by your talk and photos. Your site is joy and have forwarded the address to gardening friends. No questions yet, I am overwhelmed by the info. Just sorting what I need and want to do with my yard. I am in suburbia; enough land for me to handle if I would stay on top of ‘stuff’.
    thanks again, Carole

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Carole. How sweet of you; good to be “joy” for sure – what a nice compliment. :) And yes, “stuff” is the issues, isn’t it? Speaking of which, time to rake or mow over some more leaves here… See you soon again.

  19. Hey, Margaret. I so enjoy this blog, mostly lurking and finding good garden thoughts in the conversation, but I had to jump in here about buckeyes. I love ’em, both the red and the Ohio, with its less showy yellow flowers. But I’m not the only one fond of the actual buckeyes. Not only do Ozarkers (where I’m from, in southern Missouri) carry one around for good luck, the red squirrels adore them, for they come in before the other tree nuts and are an important source of fat and protein. Historically, they were an early and ready source of library paste, and Native Americans used the powdered nut as a fish poison. That’s my two cents.
    p.s. Thanks for the seed tips. Some companies are old favorites and some I’ll be getting aquainted with.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jen. Good point! I love this plant. Nice to meet you, and now we can await the return of the ruby-throats together. Here’s to the advent of high spring!

  20. rachelle says:

    I am so lucky to have wandered into your lovely garden! I am also a very lucky gardener who takes care of all aspects of a lakeside property near my home in SE Wisconsin. The new homeowners are city folk who spend considerable summer time ‘up at the cottage’ which has a long history since it was built as a resort in 1872. I am involved most days with caring for neglected shrubs and expanses of perennial beds planted eons ago. It has been an evolution which is coming along quite nicely indeed – which brings me to the subject of small trees. I planted a Heptacodium 2 years ago and am about to enjoy its blooms any day now! I’ve underplanted it with a skirt of Oxalis ‘Iron cross’ which gives this area summer long interest as the Seven Son Flower Tree (Heptacodium) develops its blooms. The oxalis colors and flowers will compliment its partner above it for a great show – whoohoo!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Rachelle — sounds like you have quite a piece of heaven. Nice! I have a Heptacodium, too, and it has interesting peeling back, too…and I love the way its white flowers seem to last or have a second (different) season because they are followed by red seedheads. A nice plant. See you soon again, I hope.

  21. DebbieCZ says:

    Margaret – what mountain is in the background of your last photo? I followed the posts to the end and am doubly excited about the Heptacodium I purchased last fall. We have a future retirement home in NW Illinois. I discovered an great nursery, Gockmans in Stockton, IL. Virginia & Dan grow what they love and continue to love each & every tree. As we were wandering their nursery we came upon a Heptacodium – they only had three left. I was lucky to snag one and even luckier when they said they would plant it (we have SUPER clay soil) – it’s plunked in the middle of my lawn but I can envision the sweeping garden bed that will eventually surround it. I love January – it’s so easy to make my garden perfect. It just gets harder to do the same thing come May! Any suggestions for ground plants – I don’t think the oxalis will work.

  22. Kara says:

    Great list! I am addicted to small trees! I have:

    I have a big backyard that I have landscaped to sort of resemble a small arboretum…paths and trees and shrubs and hosta. I have the following – all growing in the shade:

    Japanese Stewartia (deep shade, 10 flowers last year, about 7′ tall)
    Bottlebrush Buckeye (love the big leaves)
    Cornus Controversa “Janine”
    Cornus Controversa “Variegata” (on order for this spring!)
    White flowering redbud (don’t know what the latin name is…)
    and several Japanese maples

    My yard is sort of in a “bowl” so on the inclines, I have (staggered) kousas inherited from my neighbor. last year there were 12 that survived. they are about 4′ tall. they haven’t ever flowered, and I’m thinking they don’t get enough sun to flower – but I just like the foliage.

    My mom has a Stewartia that is about 30′ tall – full sun – covered in blossoms. She also have a Cornus Controversa Variegata – this is about 20′ tall, beautiful and tiered. I’m considering taking out the (struggling) redbud and putting in the CCV in it’s place. I love that tree! Love your blog. Will add your book to my summer reading list….

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kara. All great suggestions. I have never done well with the C. controversa ‘Variegata’ but it’s lovely (I put it in too tough a spot, I think). Mine sounds like your redbud. :) See you soon!

  23. Kara says:

    My mom’s C. Controversa Variegata is stunning. The Janine is variegated too (yellow). Her tree is about 15′ across with 3′ spacing between tiers. I love your description of Wolf Eyes – I’ve looked at that in my local nursery. I do love dogwoods. How much sun does yours get? We have 4 Euro Beeches which form a canopy – about 50′ up that shades our back yard…so I am addicted to weird shade plants. The Beeches are ancient…13′ diameters & 80′ tall. The garden is now about 12 years old, so things are really looking nice.

    Have you seen the Venus Kousa? The blossom is nearly 10″ across and looks like a magnolia. It’s very expensive here – but OH MY. It’s on my “one day” list.

    A friend planted a Franklinia here in New England. Not being much of a gardener, she had no idea it leafed out so late and was going to take it out because she thought it was dead (YIKES!). I encouraged her to give it time – and low and behold – it leafed out AND flowered! Phew – one small tree saved. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.