The Q&A Archives: Searching For An Understory Tree For A Shaded City Rowhouse Garden

Question: I own a rowhouse in Washington, DC, and am planning the landscaping for my backyard. There are a number of issues:

1. My lot is only about 12 1/2 feet wide (but about 40" deep), and is shady for most of the day;

2. The space has a northern exposure, and there is a large, white, brick schoolhouse on the other side of the alley behind my house.

3. My neighbor has a Japanese flowering cherry tree that partially overhangs my yard, along with a japanese maple and what looks to be wisteria against the fence separating our properties.

I would like to find a deciduous understory tree with year-round interest. It would also be nice if this tree was not in flower at the same time as the neighbor's cherry tree, and if the fall color was as vibrant, but not the same as, the japanese maple. I's like whatever tree I put out there to kind of "go with" my neighbor's stuff. Do you have a couple of suggestions?


Answer: Your space is so small, perhaps you could simply enjoy your neighbor's tree? To meet all of the conditions you have laid out and do well in such heavy shade, I can only think of Cornus florida or possibly another native, Viburnum prunifolium.

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