Trees FAQs

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I have acquired a small, treeless garden. Can you suggest two or three attractive trees that will flower in summer and will not ultimately grow too tall?

Most trees flower in spring and early summer; the few which flower later grow too large too quickly for a small garden. A delightful early-flowering one is the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), which has clusters of rosy purple flowers in late May and June on bare stems; the leaves unfold after the flowers. It is related to the pea family; it will grow about 3 m (10 ft) high and wide in eight years, and will eventually reach a height of about 4.5 m (15 ft) or a little more.

Another delightful early-flowering tree is the hybrid

Laburnum x watereri ‘Vossii’ (syn. L. x vossii), which bears lovely golden flower racemes 300 mm (12 in) or more long in May. It will eventually reach 4.5-5.5 m (15-18 ft) in height.

Finally, a tree with a fine, wide-spreading head is Crataegus x prunifolia, an ornamental thorn or may tree. Its white flower clusters, borne in June, are followed by bright red haws (berries) and brilliant crimson leaves in autumn. Its height and spread willl be about 2.4 x 3.5 m (8 x 12 ft) after 10 years or so, and it will eventually reach about 4.5 m (15 ft) in height and spread.

I would like to plant a weeping willow next to my garden pool, but I am worried about the size it may eventually attain. Can you recommend any reasonably small varieties?

Although weeping willows are handsome, graceful trees, the commonest species, Salix x chrysocoma, grows much too large for the average garden—it will eventually attain a height of about 18 m (60 ft) or even more, with wide-spreading roots. A better, slower-growing tree is the standard form of the purple weeping willow (Salix purpurea ‘Pendula’) which will reach about 4.5 m (15 ft) in 12 years but will not grow much taller. Its young shoots are a striking purple in colour.

To provide winter colour in the garden, I want to plant some trees with attractive bark. Can you recommend suitable species?

The Himalayan birch (Betula jacquemontii) is one of the handsomest, especially when well-grown, with its silvery white bark, and in autumn when its leaves turn yellow. Prunus serrula is a white-flowering cherry with shining red-brown bark which looks as if it has been polished. Acer dauidii is a maple whose striking bark is bright green and white striped. All these are small trees growing to about 4.5-7.5 m (15-25 ft).

I wish to replace a tree recently blown down in a gale. Can you recommend one with good autumn leaf colour? My garden soil is acid.

The American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) has maple-shaped leaves which rum crimson, yellow, and orange in autumn and give a brilliant display; it slowly grows into a large tree of 15 m (50 ft). (Make sure you buy from a nursery which is known to have a good-colouring form. Some liquidambars have indifferent autumn colour.)

The snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii) is a small tree whose leaves turn various shades of red in autumn; it also makes a charming show with its white flowers in spring.

The flowering cherry (Prunus sargentii), with its crimson and orange leaves in autumn, also has a delightful springtime display of pink flowers; it has chestnut brown bark. Both this and the snowy mespilus rarely exceed 6 m (20 ft) in height.

I am growing a collection of plants to lighten a dark corner, and for a focal point I would like a tree which has yellow or yellow-variegated leaves. Can you suggest one which does not grow too tall?

Some trees with foliage of this nature are: The ‘Winston Churchill’ variety of Lawson cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), yellow with a conical shape; Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’, a yellow-margined female holly; Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’, yellow leaves, which grows at a rate of 450 mm (18 in) a year.

What trees are there with well-coloured berries in autumn which are least likely to be damaged by birds?

Suitable small trees include Sorbus uilmorinii, with pink and white berries and purple autumn leaves; yew (Taxus baccata) with red berries (poisonous); the hawthorn

Crataegus carrierei, with pretty orange-red berries; the mountain ash Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’, with amber-yellow fruits; and the holly (//ex) ‘J. C. van ToF, which has heavy crops of berries every year. Spraying with non-poisonous substances bitter-tasting to birds is a useful insurance; but the substances are usu ally washed off in a heavy shower of rain.

In a local park there is a handsome grey-leaved tree, with dense and rather weeping growth, which makes it look rather like an elongated shrub. Can you identify it, or suggest a similar tree, as I would like to obtain a specimen?

This sounds like the weeping pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’). Its willow-like leaves are silvery grey; it has white flowers followed by small brown, pear-like fruits, and it grows slowly to about 7.5 m (25 ft).

Are there any small trees which flower in August? It seems that most garden trees flower in spring or early in summer, but I would like to get away from the usual cherry/crab-apple/laburnum permutation.

The choice is limited but there are a few: Euciyphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ is one, with white saucer-shaped flowers through August and September; it prefers acid-neutral soil and a sheltered site. Another is the golden-rain tree, with bright yellow flowers in clusters; it grows about 9 m (30 ft) tall.

How can I prolong the season of my flowering cherries?

You can get a succession of flowers from these beautiful trees by planting the following: Prunus subhirtella autumnalis (flowers November-February, with single white blooms); P. sargentii (flowers March-April); and P. ‘Pink Perfection’ (double rose-pink flowers late April-May, with bronze-coloured young leaves).

I have a small garden and want to plant a pocket-handkerchief tree. How large does it grow, and does it need special soil?

Dauidia involucrata has large, white, paper-like bracts to the flowers, which account for its popular name; but it takes many years to reach flowering size. It has no special soil needs and grows 12-15 m (40-50 ft) tall, so it would eventually be rather large for your garden. It would be better to choose a smaller species ; pruning and cutting back large trees which have outgrown their space can be costly and harm their future growth.

I have several winter-flowering shrubs in my garden. Are there any winter-flowering trees I could plant to keep them company?

There is the winter-flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella autumnalis); the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo); and the cornelian cherry (Comus mas). This last has its branches and twigs wreathed in clusters of bright yellow, spidery-petalled flowers from late January-March; later it has red cherry-like fruit, and red-purple autumn foliage.

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