Ornamental Trees And How They Fit In Your Landscape -

Ornamental Trees And How They Fit In Your Landscape

ornamental trees

Technically, an ornamental tree is a tree that grows much smaller than full-sized trees. Ornamental trees can typically grow from 6 to 25 ft or so. This is much different than full size trees that can grow 50 feet or more.

Ornamental trees are excellent plants to include in your gardens and landscape. The wide variety available means you can add lots of interest and textures to your gardens. This is always a good thing.

There are a huge assortment of ornamental trees that are evergreen and deciduous, some flowering, some with berries, some weeping, all with various leaf textures and colors. The list could fill a book.

The absolute best part about ornamentals is because they stay relatively small compared to full sized trees, you can include them in your landscape and they won't outgrow the space - provided you have planned out your garden correctly.

What Are The Best Ornamental Trees For You?

Some of the best ornamental trees around are also the most popular. You'll see them planted in many landscapes. Professionals use them a lot because they are usually gorgeous specimens that attract the attention of everyone that is admiring the garden.

Some of the best ornamental trees that are used today include the dogwood, Japanese maple, weeping cherry, crape myrtle, magnolia and redbud just to name a few.

Using any one of these specimens within your gardens will enhance the beauty of the space and create a focal point that will draw attention.

The Varioius Types Of Ornamental Trees Explained

We want to go over in greater detail the different types of ornamental trees and how you can use them within your planting space.

Evergreen Ornamental Trees - Give Mass To Your Gardens

Evergreen ornamental trees are, as the name implies, green throughout the year. It's always good to include evergreens within your gardens because they help fill out the space during the winter when other plants have either lost their leaves or have died back.

In addition, everygreens create a solid mass within the garden, making them somewhat heavy looking. This is a look that is very good in certain situations. For instance, if you want to block your neighbor's house, or even have a full looking tree in one particular spot, you might want to consider an evergreen.

Pro Tip: Many gardeners will plant rows of everygreens as a border, whether it's to define their property border, or to close in a space. While there is nothing wrong with this use, it is not the focus of this article, which actually intends to focus on included ornamentals within a garden space.

ornamental tree in garden

There are two types of evergreen ornamental trees. One is called a conifer. The other type of evergreen is a broadleaf evergreen. Here is the difference:

Conifer Ornamentals With Needles:

A conifer is an evergreen that has needles instead of leaves and pine cones that serve as the seeds for new trees. Conifers consist of spruce trees such as blue spruce, fir trees like the doublas fur, pines, cedars, cypress such as leyland cypress and more.

Including a conifer or two is a great way to vary the texture of green in your garden. Because conifers have needles, they will contrast to almost everything else.

conifer with pinecones
conifer in mountains

As you see these image of trees it should become obvious what a conifer is.

Broadleaf Evergreens - Adding Contast:

There are also evergreens that are called broadleaf for their leaves that are, well, like regular leaves. The one broadleaf evergreen that could be considered an ornamental tree is the holly.

There are many varieties of holly. Some stay small and would be considered shrubs but some also grow 10-20 ft tall.

Most broadleaf evergreens are a cross between a tree and a shrub but a lot of people consider them shrubs. These include euonymus, mountain laurel and rhododendron, all of which could grow to 10 feet or more.

Plants such as azaleas and boxwoods are also considered broadleaf evergreens but are definitely shrubs and not trees because they usually grow 3-4 feet or less.

Like conifers, broadleaf evergreens are an excellent choice to include in your gardens because they give your space winter interest when everything else has turned brown and/or died.

rhododendron in winter

Here's an image of a rhododrendon in winter.  These popular broadleaf evergreens not only hold their leaves and color in the winter, they product big colorful blooms in spring.

Deciduous Ornamental Trees - The Focal Point

Deciduous ornamental trees loose their leaves in the winter but even so, have a lot of other advantages, so they definitely deserve a spot in your gardens. One of these advantages is many of them flower.

There are lots and lots of choices of deciduous ornamental trees. Arguably the most popular flowering ornamental tree in our planting zone of 7 is the dogwood, which flowers in the springtime, most commonly with white or pink flowers.

Another very popular flowering ornamental tree is the crepe myrtle. This is one of the classic southern trees that blooms in mid-summer and lasts through the fall. You've probably seen them with their gorgeous pink and purple blooms.

Other deciduous ornamental trees include Japanese maple, lilac, birch, crabapple, and more.

Weeping Ornamental Trees - Gardeners Take Notice

Weeping ornamental trees bring an entirely new texture to your gardens so if you can, try to incorporate one or more of these beauties.

One of the most popular and classic examples of a weeping ornamental tree is the cutleaf Japanese red maple. This tree is a slow grower with small red leaves that weep down to the ground. It's an excellent addition to any garden.

Other examples of weeping ornamental trees include the weeping cherry tree, weeping willow and scotch (weeping) elm.

Here's a beautiful japanese red maple - the cutleaf variety.

Other examples of weeping ornamental trees include the weeping cherry tree, weeping willow and scotch (weeping) elm.

Flowering Ornamental Trees - Brighten Your Days

Flowering ornamental trees are almost always deciduous, losing their leaves in the winter. Their growing pattern means the flowers emerge in the spring, followedd by the foliage and leaves once the flowers are spent. Then in fall, the leaves usually turn vibrant colors and drop, leaving them bare for the winter.

Interestingly, some deciduous ornamental trees show off different colored bark, which creates additional interest in the winter. For instance, the "red twig dogwood" sports red bark, which makes for a great looking winter tree.

Trees falling into this category include dogwoods, cherry trees, magnolias and redbud, most notably, the eastern redbud. If you want berries, consider "winterberry" that produces bright red berries in the winter.

ornamental cherry tree

The above image is a flowering "cherry tree."  Beautiful don't you think.  Would that look good in your own yard?

Fast Growing Ornamental Trees - The Myth Vs The Truth

The best ornamental trees we've mentioned here would not be considered fast growing. Indeed a fast-growing ornamental is an oxymoron and might not be something you want.

By its definition ornamental means smaller so if you're planting a tree that grows too fast, it will likely outgrow its location more quickly. Ask yourself "will this suit my needs?"

In addition fast growing trees are normally weaker trees because they either have shallow roots or have not had time to become established before growing too tall.

One of these is the bradford pear tree, which used to be popular here in our area but has actually fallen out of favor. We think this tree has even been discontinued because we haven't seen it for sale in quite a while. Its weak branch structure which causes branches to break and fall off routinely and it's short life span contributed to this situation.

One excellent fast growing ornamental is the crepe myrtle. We planted these for several of our clients and they look great. Once crepe mrytles get to the maximum size for the garden space, they will need to be pruned once per year, during in the winter off-season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the cutleaf Japanese red maple which is considered a dwarf ornamental tree (see below). These trees are very slow growing. You could plant one of these in year 1 and 10 years later it might have grown three to four feet! The good thing is that it will stay the size you need it for a long time and rarely need pruning.

Most ornamental trees have a growth rate of 1 foot per year give or take but in our experience, we find it to be less.

As an example we planted a dogwood for one particular client about 15 years ago and it rarely needs trimming.

Dwarf Ornamental Trees - What's The Difference?

What the heck is a dwarf ornamental tree? Since an ornamental tree is a small tree, it may be confusing. Well, dwarf refers to its growth rate.

In horticulture, a dwarf tree is one that is artificially kept to a smaller size than the usual species of the same tree. This is done to keep them small artificially because, well, people want these this feature when they are considering plants for their gardens.

The most ideal example of this is the cutleaf Japanese maple as mentioned in the previous section. This tree grows extremely slow and is great for it’s different color and texture of its leaves.

Other dwarf ornamental trees include hydrandea (tree forms), pear trees (especially the beautiful Jack Dwarf Pear), and certain varieties of redbud (like the lavender twist redbud).

If you want a dwarf ornamental tree for your landscape, we’d advise you do go to your local nursery or garden centers that specializes in plants. You’ll find many more varieties of plants in these stores than you will the “big box” stores that merely have garden “sections” within them.

In addition, employees at nurseries and garden centers are much more knowledgeable and helpful and can lead you in the right direction.

Where To Plant Ornamental Trees

Ornamental trees are usually planted by themselves in gardens. They break the rule of odds; that is, grouping plants in odd numbers of 3, 5, etc. You will normally plant one ornamental tree as a focal point in one area of the garden with other smaller plants encircling the base.

The most common design is to use ornamental trees in the corner of the garden or the corner of the house where the garden bed wraps around the corner and expands around it. The bedline would form a half-circle around the tree and plants underneath it.

Here’s an image of what we mean.

Conclusion - The Answers In Summary

Ornamental trees are a beautiful addition to any garden with the exception of very small spaces. You should definitely consider one or more in your garden space. They will add a focal point, interest and spring or summer color with their flowers.

Overall professional garden design uses ornamental trees or shrubs in almost every garden and you should too!

If you want more information on other types of plants to include in your garden, visit our PLANT GUIDE HERE!

Happy gardening.

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