Using flowering trees in the landscape

When planning a landscape, large shade trees command attention and serve as a focal point in a yard or garden. Although all trees “flower,” the larger species are noted for the shade they provide, and the buds may not be noticeable. When creating a garden design or interest area near a commercial building, flowering trees noted for their blooms, unusual bark and other unusual features provide texture and color. For a more desirable landscape design, consider both large shade trees and flowering trees in your plans.

Realize that different trees produce different types of shade. For example, the magnolia, with its large leaves, produces dense shade and casts longer shadows, while the dogwood gives a dappling effect and allows a wider range of planting options, such as flowering annuals or perennials planted beneath.

Factors affecting flowering trees

Lee Bailey with Four Seasons Nursery and Garden Center located in Jackson, Tenn., recommends that landscape contractors purchase flowering trees from a reputable nursery. Look for healthy growing in the roots, trunk and foliage. If a dry season has occurred in your area, check to see if the trees show signs of drought? Does the nursery provide a 12-month guarantee on trees?

The pink dogwood is often used as a landscape plant and accents lawns and gardens. Dogwood trees produce showy blooms in early srping before leaves appear.

Bas van Burren, owner of the Dutch Garden Center (www.dutchgardencetner.com) sells to both commercial developers and residential homeowners. He explains that location and placement can determine the success or failure of the tree. Most flowering trees need at least a half-day of sunlight if flowers are to reach maturity. Although some trees will continue to flower with inadequate light, low light is usually the reason for a lack of flowers. First, choose an accent tree, then determine if the area is a shade or sunny location. Your choice of perennials can be unusual foliage and color for shade or perennials with flowers for sun.

Landscape contractors are trained in placement and location for flowering trees. But, what if a client requests a particular species for sun or shade? It is understood that flowering trees need more sun than non-flowering types. Working with an experienced nursery owner can help the client substitute another species that will be better suited to the location. If planted in the proper setting, the tree will have a greater chance of reaching its mature growth and provide seasonal flowering.

In caring for trees, some factors can be controlled, while others can not. Weather and climate take their toll. Flowering trees need the right amount of water, nutrients and light. Fertile soil with good drainage can determine the success or failure of the plant. Check with a knowledgeable nursery owner for trees that are susceptive to problems like scab, powdery mildew and fireblight. Choose those that require less maintenance throughout the year.

The crabapple has showy red/pink flowers in early spring. In late summer, crabapples can be harvested. The Southern magnolia is the state tree of Louisiana and Mississippi. Deep green leaves accent the fragrant summer blooms.

Flowering trees for southern landscapes

Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana Bradford) is considered by many nurseries to be a mainstay in southern gardens. Easy to grow and transplant. the ornamental pear tree has been overused in many locations. With showy white flowers appear before leaves develop, providing an early spring accent to gardens. In the fall, glossy burgundy leaves add richness to the traditional yellows and oranges of deciduous trees. Lacking a central leader, the branches emerge from a common point on the trunk. For this reason, high winds and storms often cause the tree to split and large branches fall.

Most species tolerate drought, making the Bradford pear a good choice for city streets or paved borders. Planted in rows, they can be used to define property lines and serve as a screen.

A fast grower, a mature tree can reach 50 feet high and 40 feet wide in 20 years. Chanticleer and Trinity are smaller and are a better choice when planting in small areas.

The Bradford pear tree adapts to summer drought and can survive near concrete parking lots.

Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia) have been one of the most satisfactory of small flowering trees for southern climates. Not only do they produce showy summer flowers that last for weeks, but an attractive bark provides winter interest in a barren landscape. In fall, brilliant orange, red and yellow leaves make for a year-round tree.

As blooms are produced on new wood, crepe myrtles should be pruned in winter or early spring. Select three or five sturdy branches and remove basal suckers that grow near the base. This method of pruning allows the smooth tan or gray mottled surface to be visible during the winter.

Crepe myrtles come in shades of pinks, lavender and purple and also white. A small, 4 to 5-foot-tall plant makes a focus point in a garden setting. As a screen between properties, it serves as a divider much like a fence.

If mildew becomes a problem, spray with triforine (Funginex) prior to blooming or select mildew-resistant hybrids. Those recommended by the National Arboretum, include Acoma, Biloxi, Comanche, Hopi, Kipan, Miami, Muskogee, Natchez, Osage, Sioux, Tuskegee, Yuma and Zuzi.

Cherry, peach, plum

Similar in growth requirement, these trees are identical in size, growth habit, cultural needs and potential problems. Aphids, borers, scale and tent caterpillars are potential pests. Possible diseases include canker and leaf spot. Plant flowering fruit trees in full sun in fast-draining, well-aerated soil. Prune after blooming, as needed to maintain shape. Choose a location where trees will be highly visible during bloom time—late winter to early spring—but fairly unobtrusive when out of bloom.

Check with a professional nursery center for late bloomers if your area is prone to late frost. Hot, early spring weather can support early bloomers.

For leaf color in the landscape, select the ornamental purple-foliaged plum. With ornamental flowering fruit trees, blooms appear before leaves. The deep purple leaves provide spring through fall color for the both commercial and residential plantings.

The crabapple (Malus species) provides the landscape a spring flower in shades of white, pink and red. This small tree is susceptible to scab, powdery mildew rust and fire blight. Recommended varieties include Adirondack, Prairifire, Red Jewel, Sargent, Springsnow and White Cascade.

Other flowering trees

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is one of the most popular small trees for the eastern United States. The tree is often seen growing in a wooded area or as a focal point for a grouping of plants. Dogwoods adapt to being planted under other larger trees or in full sun. Before leaves bud out, greenish-colored flowers appear, with many cultivars available with flower bracts of white, pink or red. Dogwoods continue to add to the landscape with an early red leaf color in the fall. Some provide clusters of small oval scarlet fruit into winter. An interesting bark makes this a good selection for a natural setting. It requires regular water during hot, dry summers.

Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), to most people of the lower U.S., means the classic Southern magnolia. With 4 to 8-inch green glossy leaves and fragrant saucer-shaped blooms, the tree is a stand-alone part of the landscape. Few trees can compare with its year-round beauty.

The magnolia is known for withstanding urban conditions of heat and drought. Free of pest and disease, the tree is maintenance-free except for the year-round leaf drop. Choose the planting location carefully, as it is difficult to successfully move the tree. Due to dense shade and surface roots, it’s difficult for grass to grow under the tree. During the first few years after planting, keep a cooling area of mulch over the root area.

Brackens Brown Beauty, Little Gem and Edith Bogue are cold-hardy cultivars that flower at a young age.

The author writes from Jackson, Tenn.