Article previously published in Flourish
The Pacific Northwest is blessed with spectacular skylines of soaring native firs and cedars and a climate well-adapted to a wide array of trees to compliment them. Trees bring grace and beauty to our world, creating living walls and ceilings to enclose our gardens, screening out unwanted views and sheltering us and our homes with cooling shade in summer. From the first hint of emerging leaves in spring, to clouds of showy blooms, lush, leafy summer shade, fiery fall colors and the bare tracery of branches in winter, trees dazzle us all through the year. Some trees bear showy fruit that attracts the cheerful songs of birds, allowing us to watch the nature show of their comings and goings throughout the year. Perhaps most importantly, trees filter our air, taking out CO2 and giving off life-supporting oxygen in exchange.
A well-chosen tree adds value and beauty to your home. There are so many trees to choose from, varying in size, form, leaf color, fall colors, flowers and conditions in which they will thrive. The key to picking the right trees for your yard is to evaluate the conditions in which the trees will grow and to decide about how large you’d like them to grow. See if your site is sunny or mostly shaded? Does the water puddle and stay boggy all winter or does the water drain away fairly soon after heavy rains? A simple soil test kit can tell you the pH of your soil. Trees that like acidic conditions (low pH), like sourwood or pin oaks, cannot absorb nutrients and they will look chlorotic (yellowish) if the pH is too high. Will you be able to water the tree during our dry summer months or will the tree need to survive without irrigation once it’s established? If you choose trees well-adapted to the site they’re planted in they can thrive and grow beautifully for a lifetime. We have handouts for wet-tolerant, drought-tolerant and deer resistant plants so you can choose wisely. Also, our knowledgeable staff can help you pick the perfect tree for your site.
Once you know your conditions and how large you want your tree to get, the fun part is deciding what you want from your tree. Spring and summer foliage can be green, gold, burgundy or variegated. Colored or variegated foliage makes beautiful accents but should be used sparingly. Maples, redbuds, beech, and flowering plums can have burgundy or gold foliage. Maples, dogwoods and beech can have variegated leaves.
Do you want a flowering tree? Trees can bear a stunning display of flowers in spring or summer in a variety of colors and shapes. Look at the spot you’d like to plant the tree to choose flowers, leaf colors and forms that look pleasing and don’t clash with the surrounding buildings and plants. For a dark backdrop of evergreen trees or a dark colored house, a cloud of white or pale pink flowers from a flowering cherry, flowering crabapple, dogwood, snowbell or star magnolia would show up beautifully. If your house is light colored perhaps deep purple goblets of Black Tulip magnolia, dark pink Royal Raindrops crabapple or magenta flowering redbuds would be stunning.
If your garden is full of blooming shrubs and bulbs in spring and you’d rather have blooms in summer, consider Clerodendrum, a deer resistant small tree with wonderfully fragrant white flowers in August followed by jewel-like blue fruit that the birds will love. Silk tree (or Mimosa) is a graceful spreading tree covered with puff balls of pink flowers in late summer with ferny foliage of green or burgundy (Summer Chocolate Mimosa). Sourwood is a lovely small tree with sprays of white blooms in late summer followed by dazzling red fall colored foliage.
Some trees bear showy fruit that put on quite a show until our feathered friends come to feast upon them. Crabapples like Golden Raindrops and Royal Raindrops have tiny pea-sized fruit that is always eaten by birds and so makes no mess. Also, pretty in fruit are some dogwoods, hawthorns, mountain ash and Clerodendrum.
Fall can bring spectacular colors to the foliage of many trees. For blazing reds try many Japanese maples, red maples, Autumn Blaze maple, Pacific Sunset and Crimson Sunset maples. Also consider sour gum (Nyssa), sour wood (Oxydendrum), Stewartia, Franklinia, dogwood and red or scarlet oaks. Brilliant yellows glow from ginkgos, aspen, birch and yellowwood(Cladrastus). Mixed colors of yellow orange and red are displayed on paperbark maple (Acer griseum), sugar maple, sumacs and Parrotias.
What shape do you want your tree to be? There are gracefully weeping trees in many sizes. For smaller sizes (less than 20’) there are sculptural weeping purple beech, Ruby Falls or Lavender Twist redbuds with small pinkish-purple blooms or weeping golden chain tree (Laburnum) with hanging chains of sunny yellow, wisteria-like blooms. Another interesting small weeper is the weeping pussy willow with fuzzy, fur-like silver flowers that is tolerant of very wet sites. Flowering cherries put on quite a show in double pink or Snow Fountain white flowered varieties. Camperdown Elms sporting lime green flowers in spring followed by large leaves are very striking weepers. By a pond or wet site weeping willows are the first trees to leaf out in spring, forming fast-growing, gracefully weeping giants.
Is space limited, so you need a narrow columnar tree? There are narrow forms of many trees. Try red maples like Armstrong and Bowhall, columnar hornbeams, Red Obelisk beech, Princeton Sentry ginkgo, Musachino zelkova or Persian Spire parrotia that form striking vertical accents.
If you need a very small tree for a patio, planter or other small space look at tree forms of several shrubs. Lilacs, rose of Sharon, crape myrtle, panicle hydrangeas, dappled willow, Black Lace elderberry, flowering currant and variegated redtwig dogwoods all come in tree forms, making small trees 10-15’ or less.
There’s bound to be the perfect tree for your garden waiting to be found. Let the experts at Garland Nursery help you find the right one for you.