I am often asked by clients to include Ornamental Trees in their Landscape Designs. Ornamental trees are small to medium sized trees typically in the ten to thirty five foot mature height range. Ornamental Trees typically have interesting characteristics such as colorful and sometimes fragrant flowers, beautiful fall color, and/ or interesting bark. Ornamental trees are sometimes referred to as Patio Trees by Landscape Designers because they are perfect for settings that require a smaller scale tree than a large shade tree such as near a house or structure.
So the question is which of these trees are best? Here are a few of my favorites.
Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a small to medium sized ornamental tree that will mature from fifteen to twenty five feet tall by similar spread if planted and left alone, however I have one that I keep trimmed to about twelve feet tall by 8’ wide by selectively trimming it once a year. I like Serviceberries for a number of reasons. Their best feature in my opinion are the white flowers that bloom in April each year. The flowers can last several weeks in good weather although I have noticed that heavy rains can shorten the bloom time.
The Serviceberry also has an interesting gray bark like that of an elephant’s skin and a red/ orange fall leaf color. Red berries provide additional color in fall to early winter and make the Serviceberry a tree that is very attractive to birds which usually eat the berries before they even have a chance to fall. A Serviceberry tree outside my office window is really good for bird watching during berry season.
Many people like and ask for Dogwood Trees but the clay soils of Central Ohio aren’t conducive to them and we frequently see them decline if planted in a less than ideal location or with less than ideal soil amendment. Serviceberries are, on the other hand, very tolerant and seem to do well just about anywhere making them a good substitute for Dogwood.
Jane Magnolia (Magnolia ‘Jane’) is one of my favorites for their colorful Pink spring flowers and their upright habit. They typically grow in a Multiple stem upright vase shape clump and can mature to about ten to fifteen feet tall and eight to twelve feet wide.
Although they bloom a couple of weeks later than other Magnolias the flowers can still be damaged by late frosts but when they flower without a frost they are spectacular.
Crabapple trees have been a long time favorite for use as an Ornamental Tree and there are many, many cultivars to choose from. The Crabapples can have beautiful White, Pink or Red flowers. However, some cultivars are susceptible to Apple Scab and Fire Blight, fungal diseases that can result in early leaf drop or even death in the case of Fire Blight. Fortunately there are varieties that have been selected for their resistance to these problems.
Crabapples have berries that usually will drop and can be considered messy so they should be sited appropriately away from driveways, sidewalks and patios. Spring Snow Crabapple is a nice White flowering version that does not have berries. Prairiefire Crabapple has Pink flowers, good disease resistance and will only get 15′ tall by 15′ wide making it a suitable selection for tight areas.
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) has always been a favorite because of their Pink colored spring flowers, their reddish-brown bark and their heart shaped leaves. They can reach a mature height of twenty to thirty feet with similar spread.
Although they are native to Central Ohio they can be a little difficult to get established but once they are, they seem to have few problems with disease or insects. My favorite Cultivar is the “Appalachian Red. The ‘Forest Pansy’ Cultivar is a Purple Leaved version of the Redbud that is growing in popularity and the Lavender Twist is a unique looking Weeping version.
Cleveland Select Pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Cleveland Select’) is a favorite because of its full white flowers and its purplish-red orange fall color. Some people shy away from Ornamental Pears because they remember that the Bradford Pear would often split and lose half of its canopy. That was due to a weak crotch angle that made it highly susceptible to branch breakage under stress of snow, ice or wind. The Cleveland Select is an improved cultivar that has much stronger crotch angles resulting in many fewer instances of canopy loss. Cleveland Selects can get thirty to forty feet tall with a twenty foot spread and should be planted in locations keeping that in mind. Cleveland Selects are tolerant of urban conditions such as heat reflection from pavement and car exhaust making them suitable for planting as Street Trees.
Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) is a rather unique white flowering ornamental tree that blooms later in early to mid June, which is later than most of the other Ornamental Trees on my list. The flowers bloom on a large panicle and are really showy. They grow in an upright shape and can get to a mature height of twenty to thirty feet tall. Tree Lilacs are also good candidates for street tree planting. “Ivory Silk” is a good, compact cultivar of the Tree Lilac.
Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata “Kwanzan”) is an upright growing, medium sized ornamental tree that will reach fifteen to twenty five feet tall. It has large deep pink flowers that bloom in April- Early May and are really attractive. Kwanzan is one of the Cherry trees planted in Washington D.C. for the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival.
Ornamental Trees will frequently be grown with either a Single Stem Trunk or as a Multiple Stemmed Clump. If grown as a multiple stemmed clump, they will sometimes look like a large shrub rather than a small tree unless they receive a little TLC in the form of pruning. I prefer to reduce the number of leaders to 3 or 5 and then limb them up so that so that the canopy starts at 3-4’ minimum height.
Matt McCoy is a Nationally Certified Landscape Professional and the President of McCoy Landscape Services, Inc. a Full Service Landscaping Company that specializes in designing and installing Outdoor Living Spaces, Paver Patios and Colorful Landscaping. McCoy Landscape services the Central Ohio Communities of Delaware, Powell, Lewis Center, Westerville, Marion, Mt. Gilead, Upper Sandusky and Bucyrus.