Tired of seeing the same old same old? Tired of crabapples? There are many small to mid-sized trees that are seldom used, not because they are not worthy of being showcased on your front lawn. More, it is because of gardeners' unfamiliarity with them.
One of my favorite small trees is Japanese Tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata). It can grow to a rounded form 25 x 25' and be trained to grow as a large shrub or single stem tree. The huge white flowers appear in July, after most lilacs have finished blooming. The fragrance is not as strong as common lilac (syr. vulgaris), but has its own milder scent. Ivory Silk is a more compact, narrow form, which blooms at a younger age than the Japanese Tree Lilac. This tree prefers full sun and soil which drains well.
Amur Maackia (Maackia amurensis) is a mid-size tree, growing to a rounded 30 foot form. New growth reminds me of fiddleheads starting to open, but are a blue gray color. This phase is as striking as many flowers and shows well in early May. The small leaves are spaced openly along the stems and branches and are somewhat like locust tree leaves. However, the Maackia are not messy nor are they primarily a canopy tree. White flowers appear in July and are noticeable, if not large. The rich brown bark peels with age and adds much to this species year - round interest. Fall color is a medium yellow. Maackia appear to tolerate dry conditions and a variety of soils.
Two dogwoods that are hardy to most of Maine are the Gray Dogwood and the Golden Glory Corneliancherry Dogwood. While Kousa Dogwood gets more attention and has spectacular blooms, it can survive mostly near the coast or protected sites.
Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is an excellent small tree, growing to a rounded 15' shape. It requires pruning of watersprouts, or suckers, just like many crabapples, in order to keep a single stem. White flowers can completely cover the leaves in July in a good year to rival the best white crabapples. The small white berries show in August/September and attract birds. Purplish red fall foliage is subdued but very pretty. This tree is a true Maine native for those trying to promote native species. This tree does well in shade or sun and dry or wet soils.
Golden Glory Dogwood (Cornus mas "Golden Glory") grows to about 20 feet and is slightly more upright than rounded. It shows deep yellow flowers before its leaves emerge and, generally, flowers appear about two weeks before forsythia. Red edible fruit then follows in July. The leaves are smooth and elongated and have a shiny dark green lustre that is very clean and attractive. Fall color can be reddish with purple, but is not consistently colorful. This dogwood is adaptable to many soil types and, while full sun is best, it does well in partial shade.
Yellowwood (Cladestris lutea) is a fine mid-size tree growing to a rounded 35' specimen. Leaves are 6" long and very dark green. In the fall, these turn a light yellow. White, very fragrant flowers appear in July. This tree has many of the attributes of Linden without attaining a large size. For this reason, it fits well in a smaller yard. Full sun is best and well-drained soil is necessary for good growth.
Amur Maple (Acer ginnela) can be a single-stem ,small tree or multi-stem form ,growing to a rounded 20 feet. Leaves are small, somewhat jagged, and a slightly shiny, medium green. This import can be covered with seedpods but does not germinate well enough to be a problem. The seedpods (flowers) are very attractive early in the season. The best feature of this plant is its very bright red fall color, which persists for about two months. Leaves gradually start to turn so that a leaf may have green with red, providing a nice contrast. This maple is very soil tolerant and does well in full sun to light shade.
Finally, magnolias can provide that large showy flower we all appreciate after a long winter. This species is erroneously thought of as not hardy, but at least three varieties have proven themselves in Maine. Dr. Merrill( a lobneri), Star(Mag. stellata), and Leonard Messel (lobneri) all do well when planted in areas out of strong winds. The Star Magnolia grows to about 15' , while the other two can reach 30'. Star Magnolia are not as fragrant as the other two, but all are noticeable at some distance. Flowers are white (to light pink on Leonard Messel) and appear before the leaves in April. The best soil is rich, holding moisture, but draining well. Full sun to light shade is also needed. This plant is not prone to insect problems and rates high on the list of "must haves".
The above trees provide spring, summer, and fall appeal. There is enough
variety in flower, soil tolerance, and sunlight requirements to fit
any yard. Why wait to expand your selection of shade trees?
© Shaker Hill Nursery