Spring-Flowering Trees for Urban Gardens

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By William Moss

Old Man Winter is finally releasing his gray, icy grip, and hardy plants like snowdrops and daffodils are signaling the changing of the seasons. Over the next few weeks Mother Nature will put on a flirty display with ornamental trees of all colors and fashions. Dozens of trees will bring flowers in reds, purples, yellows, and whites; in spikes, plumes, puffballs, and cascades.

Below are some of my favorite spring-flowering trees for cities. Their shorter stature, tolerant dispositions, and hardy constitutions make them great assets for urban lots and yards. Check with local nurseries for cultivars that flourish in your area.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis). Very early spring-flowering small tree with intensely sweet-smelling flowers. Cut branches make a cheerful and fragrant arrangement.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.). Early spring-blooming small tree covered in delicate white flowers, similar to crab apples. Edible berries ripen in early summer. Suitable for large containers.

Flowering Cherry (Prunus spp.) Famous for its early spring bloom. Double-flowered varieties have fewer flowers but hold blossoms for longer periods.

Redbud (Cercis spp.). Branches and twigs are literally cloaked in reddish buds, then pinkish flowers. Multi-season interest from heart-shaped leaves and graceful habit. Spectacular displays near Louisville and Lexington.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata). Spring-blooming small tree with large, star-like flowers. One of the least messy magnolias.

Crab Apple (Malus spp.). Flowers packed along tips of branches for cloud-like blooms. Many varieties produce colorful (but sour) fruit in fall. Suitable for large containers.

Carolina Silverbells (Halesia spp.). Bell-like flowers dangle from the branches of this small tree. Decorative bark and seedpods add multi-season interest.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris). Classic mid-spring small tree with spikes of heavily perfumed flowers.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)). Small tree with a long bloom period during mid-spring. Before anthracnose ravaged the plantings, streets in the south were lined with flowering dogwoods.

Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). Drooping clusters of sweet-smelling flowers cover this woody vine in spring. Easily trained into a small tree. Suitable for large containers.

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