The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Some Underused Small Trees

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Someone (a gardener, I'm sure) said, "Variety is the spice of life." Each year we gardeners search for the new and different. Sometimes new is actually just underused, under appreciated and under requested.

When adding trees to a landscape, most urban areas have few places for large trees. However many landscapes can easily use a nice small tree. U of I professor Gary Kling at the recent Master Gardener Garden Day shared his suggestions on underused small trees which reach 20-30 feet in height.

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum, offers a lovely peeling coppery brown bark. For winter interest, there are few trees which can outdo a paperbark maple. Put this tree in high profile areas near a window or walkway where you can enjoy it all winter. Drive by Allen Residential Hall on Gregory Avenue on the U of I campus to see two nice specimens. The leaves are dark bluish green and separated into three leaflets. It can have a nice red fall color, but fall color seems to be better in the east. Paperbark maples appreciate a well-drained soil and tolerate some shade. Paperbark maple has been difficult to propagate so you may have to do a little searching to find it. However it's well worth the search.

In areas where the usual red maples and sugar maples are too big, the Purpleblow maple, Acer truncatum, may be a good choice. It tolerates most tough urban areas including dry soils. The new leaves are a nice purple changing to a glossy dark green as they age. The five lobed leaves can have a nice yellow-orange fall color. Purpleblow maple even offers a flower show as the yellow flowers emerge in April before the leaves emerge.

Most of us are quite familiar with bush lilacs. Tree lilacs offer some additional beauty beyond the lilac flowers. Japanese Tree Lilac, Syringa reticulata, has lacy white fragrant flower clusters in May and June. The bark looks very similar to the shiny brown bark of ornamental cherry trees. Tree lilacs are resistant to powdery mildew, scale and borers, which often plague shrub lilacs. The cultivars to look for are 'Ivory Silk,' 'Regent' and 'Summer Snow.'

A lovely native tree is the Apple Serviceberry, Amelanchier x grandiflora, with its white spring flowers. Serviceberry has multi-season appeal with a lovely gray striated bark, white flowers, and excellent orange-red fall color. The fruits are edible, if you can beat the birds to them. The new leaves have a purplish tinge to them. The cultivars 'Autumn Brilliance' has excellent orange-red fall color and the cultivar 'Princess Diana' has excellent red fall color. Apple serviceberry usually grows as a multi-stemmed tree. It's a nice plant used as a focal point.

We usually think of evergreens as large trees or low growing bushes. The Glaucous Japanese White pine, Pinus parviflora 'Glauca' is a slow growing pyramidal tree reaching 25-40 feet and similar or wider in spread. The 2-1/2 inch long needles are blue-green. Don't confuse this plant with the more common Eastern white pine.

Check with your local nursery or garden center for some of these underused but available small trees.

If you are totally confused on how to prune your grapes, brambles and other fruits, then join the U of I Extension Master Gardeners and horticulture specialist, Alan Otterbacher at the Idea Garden on Saturday March 17 at 10:00am for a fruit pruning workshop. Otterbacher will also share tips on caring for small fruits. No registration or fee required. The Idea Garden is located within the U of I Arboretum on South Lincoln in Urbana, just south of the corner of Florida and Lincoln avenues.

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