The Q&A Archives: Looking To Plant Smaller (not Too Small), Flowering Trees

Question: Hi-
We used to have lots of trees on our lawn when I was growing up. These included three smaller, but beautiful Japaneese Maples, which all died inexplicably, a large oak and a few other large trees. Since then, the stress of the suburbs and a lack of quality care on our part has allowed all of the trees to die off, and we find that we are tree-less....a truly sad, sad state to be in.
We are now looking to plant a few trees, preferably smaller, flowering trees. Several neighbors have Dogwoods, and we were thinking of these, until I read on your website that the Dogwoods are good only in shady areas, or underneath other, much larger trees. I also was thinking of re-planting some Japanese Maples. Our lawn looks so barren and we really want to fill it up with the life and protection that trees offer, but we really need your help as far as what type of tree to plant. We like the idea of smaller trees, but we don't want our lawn to look like a Home-Depot parking lot.

Answer: When selecting trees, it is a good idea to match them to the planting conditions. For instance, it would be better to plant the native dogwoods in a partially shaded area, either dappled light all day or morning sun, as you have already discovered. The definition of a small tree may also vary. Most "small" trees reach thirty feet or so. Since your lot is in full sun and is thus probably rather a hot and sunny place, you might consider some of the following: redbud (Cercis canadensis), goldenrain (Koelreuteria), newer more disease resistant crabapples, and ornamental cherries. The Japanese maples generally do best in a location with slightly acid, evenly moist yet well drained soil, and many of the named varieties prefer a partially shaded location as well. If your soil is moist, then you might have some success with them again. If they succumbed to disease, however, I would be hesitant to suggest replanting them. In a similar location you might also consider the deciduous magnolias which also prefer some moisture.

In deciding about the trees, it is usually a good idea to select just one variety and use the same tree in drifts or groups of uneven numbers such as three or five, with perhaps one specimen of one other variety elsewhere as an accent. If you have a large property, you could consider several drifts each of a different tree. This helps to avoid that "spotty" look. Finally, make sure to allow for their mature size when determining their planting locations.

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