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What Is An Ornamental Tree: Types Of Ornamental Trees For Gardens

What Is An Ornamental Tree: Types Of Ornamental Trees For Gardens


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By: Jackie Carroll

With beauty that endures through all seasons, ornamental trees have a lot to offer in the home landscape. Whether you are looking for flowers, fall color, or fruit to keep the garden interesting over the winter months, you have lots of trees to choose from. Read on for help in selecting ornamental trees for the landscape.

What is an Ornamental Tree?

Ornamental trees are grown for their aesthetic value and the sheer enjoyment of having them in the garden. They may have outstanding flowers and fragrance, an interesting shape, colorful or unusual bark, excellent fall color, or a combination of these and other features.

Most gardens have room for at least one small ornamental tree, and some can accommodate two or three. They add framework and structure to the garden and provide at least a little shade. They also make great background plants for shrub and flower borders.

There are many types of ornamental trees to choose from. Here are just a few that you might want to consider:

  • Flowering pears bloom in early spring with fragrant, white blossoms. Two of the most popular are Callery, which grows 30 feet (9 m.) tall, and Bradford, which reaches heights of up to 40 feet (12 m.).
  • Crabapple is the most popular type of ornamental tree in many parts of the country, and also one of the most labor-intensive to grow. The trees need a good spraying program to prevent pests and disease, and they also need a good bit of pruning. There are over 200 varieties to choose from. Select one that is resistant to apple scab.
  • Eastern redbud has purplish-pink flower clusters in spring, yellow fall foliage, and dark brown pods in fall and winter.
  • Crepe myrtle bursts into showy blooms every summer. A mainstay of southern gardens.
  • Weeping cherry is a graceful tree with early spring flowers. Songbirds love to visit this tree.
  • Flowering dogwood has lovely white or pink flower bracts that appear before the tree begins to leaf out. Many varieties have good fall color and glossy red fruit. It needs watering during dry spells.
  • Flowering plum has attractive flowers but the varieties that have reddish-purple foliage are the most popular.

How to Use Ornamental Trees

Ornamental trees make great specimen or stand-alone plants. This is especially true if they have features that make them interesting when there isn’t much else going on in the garden. You can also plant them in small clumps so that they make a garden all their own.

Small ornamental trees and those with loose canopies that allow lots of sunshine through make good garden trees. The more sunshine they let through, the more options you’ll have in the plants that you grow under them. A pattern of shifting light and shade throughout the day allows you to grow sun-loving shrubs and perennials under their canopy.

Here are some things to consider in the selection of ornamental trees:

  • Size – Do you have room for the tree? Will it be out of scale in your landscape?
  • Bloom season and duration – If you are selecting a tree for its flowers, you want them to last as long as possible.
  • Location requirements – Make sure your soil is right for the tree and you can give it the right amount of sun or shade.
  • Surface roots – Roots that rise above the soil can lift sidewalks and make lawn maintenance difficult.
  • Litter – Some trees seem to always have something falling from their branches. This is especially true of fruit trees.

Ornamental Tree Care

Ornamental tree care depends on the type of tree. There are many ornamental trees that require very little maintenance. Pruning raises the bar on tree maintenance, so look for those that grow well without extensive pruning.

Most ornamental trees look their best with a regular program of fertilization, usually in spring, and some require water during dry spells.

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Read more about General Tree Care


Easy-to-Care-for Ornamental Trees for Landscape

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It’s not breaking news that trees beautify landscapes, create shade and help reduce air pollution. But did you know that healthy ornamental trees positively impact a home’s economic value? Research shows that most real estate agents believe that trees have a strong to moderate influence on a home’s salability, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. Plus, the foundation reports that landscaping with trees can raise property value by up to 20 percent. All of these benefits are even better when trees are easy to care for.


Growing Flowering Trees

Choose an ornamental variety that suits your needs and space.

Related To:

Crabapple Tree

Fall is the perfect time to plant trees. There’s still enough foliage on other trees and shrubs in your yard to help you determine where one might fit best, and the cool season gives a new tree time to establish its roots before it’s faced with the temperature extremes of winter and summer.

That timing is especially important when it comes to ornamental trees, particularly the flowering kind, which provide beautiful seasonal interest. Think about how the color of that dogwood, cherry or crabapple tree will look next spring alongside other trees and shrubs, which may or may not be in bloom. How will that purple redbud look against your red-brick house? Maybe you want that flowering tree to be a focal point. Do you want to enjoy it from indoors? Accent a corner of the garden?

Shopping: When shopping for a flowering tree, keep in mind the size, form and overall appearance of the tree when in full bloom as well as at maturity. How tall will the tree get? Will it interfere with power lines? Shade out other plants? Also, many produce stunning fall foliage, while others yield fruit or have attractive bark color and texture for winter interest. Choose one that has wide crotch angles for avoiding weak branching – especially important if you live in a cold climate where icing can be an enemy.

Selecting: Be prepared to be amazed by the array of choices among flowering trees. There are thousands of varieties available, either through garden centers or by mail-order. Here are just a few some to consider, many of which offer dozens of cultivars: dogwood, bradford pear, crabapple, Eastern redbud, flowering cherry, flowering plum, hawthorn, saucer magnolia, star magnolia, sweetbay, serviceberry, chokeberry, crape myrtle.

Siting: The site you select for planting will also affect how well a flowering tree performs. In general, most prefer full sun (eight hours) to reach their optimum bloom power, though some types, such as dogwoods, will still deliver a great show with less sun. Few trees tolerate wet or heavy soils, or conversely, ones that are sandy and dry. Instead, they prefer a fertile topsoil with good drainage.

Planting: If the tree’s roots are balled and burlapped, remove the burlap before planting. Dig the hole at least twice as wide but no deeper than the root ball. When placed in the hole, the top one-fourth of the root ball should rise slightly above ground level. Before filling the hole with soil, mix the fill with organic matter to get the tree off to a good start with the proper nutrients. Pack the fill around the root ball until it reaches ground level, then water in. Once the water settles, water again. Finally, top the soil with several inches of mulch to help it retain moisture and prevent weeds. Keep the tree watered as needed until roots are established.


Rates of application

Preplant application

Preplant incorporation of phosphorous and potassium into soils should be based on soil test results. It is advisable to incorporate these nutrients so that they will be in the root zone when woody ornamentals are planted. This is especially important for those mineral elements that are not very mobile in soils. Phosphorus, for example, moves very slowly, as little as one inch per year from the site of application. Superphosphate (0-20-0), triple superphosphate (0-40-0), ammonium, and potassium phosphates are commonly used forms of phosphorus fertilizer. Rock phosphate is a natural source of phosphorus, but rates of application should be adjusted to accommodate the very slow rate of release of the nutrient. Particular attention must be paid to phosphorus levels in soils planted to needled evergreens since their growth response to nitrogen is greatest when phosphorus levels are high.

Preplant incorporation of potassium can provide sufficient reserves to support plant growth for five years in soils that are high in organic matter or clay content. When dissolved in soil water, potassium is a positively charged chemical (cation) and binds to particles of clay and organic matter. With high levels of clay and organic matter, potassium can be added in a single application. More frequent applications of this nutrient are necessary in sandy soils because they have less ability to bind potassium. Common fertilizer forms of potassium include potassium chloride (muriate of potash), potassium sulfate, potassium nitrate, and natural materials such as kelp meal, greensand and alfalfa meal.

Rates of application of phosphorus, potassium, and nutrients other than nitrogen should always be based upon soil test results. Any nitrogen applied as a preplant nutrient should be in a slow-release form or natural organic form.

Postplant application

Rates of fertilizer application are typically based upon the amount of nitrogen in the fertilizer since nitrogen is the mineral element most responsible for vegetative growth. For annual maintenance, it is recommended that a tree receive 1 to 3 pounds of actual N per 1000 sq. ft. of surface area (see Fertilizer Math above). The actual amount of a fertilizer to apply for maintenance of woody plants may be determined by the area method (see Area Method above).

Reduce the amount of fertilizer applied at any one time to trees on shallow, sandy, or poor sites, so as not to burn the plant's roots. Using fertilizers with slow-release forms of nitrogen will also help reduce the possibilities of root injury in such situations. Rates of nitrogen application should be adjusted on sites where there is a high potential for ground water contamination from nitrate leaching. On such sites, nitrogen application rates of 1 lb N/1000 sq. ft. or less would be advisable. Several applications at these reduced rates may be made during the growing season if needed for improving plant health. Again, use of slow-release forms of nitrogen can reduce the potential for leaching.

Rates of nitrogen application should also be adjusted according to levels of soil organic matter. Applying high rates of nitrogen to soils low in organic matter will accelerate depletion of the organic matter and in the long run reduce the fertility and structural integrity of the soil. Analysis of organic matter levels may be requested when submitting soil samples for testing. Soil organic matter levels of 4% or greater are desirable. In coastal areas where organic matter content of sandy soils is often in the range of 1-2%, use fertilizers with at least 50% of the nitrogen in water-insoluble (WIN) or slow-release form. In general, at a pH between 6 and 7, it can be assumed that 1/4-1/2 pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet is being made available per year for each one percent of organic matter in the soil. Therefore, a soil with 4% organic matter can contribute from 1-2 pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year. That is typically enough nitrogen to support healthy growth of woody plants.


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