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Category:  Gardening

Smaller Trees for Greater Impact

By Carrie P. Williams

Nothing says 'homestead' like a humble abode behind a few huge, imposing oak trees, doesn't it? Sure it does -- as long as you've got the large property to hold it all. Unfortunately, these majestic acreages of land is something less and less of us get to call our own. With more of the population residing in suburban areas, we have less space on our property to devote to those arching giants of the plant kingdom. How is one to have their trees and see their house as well?

Using smaller trees in your landscape can offer quite a lot of benefits. Not only do they keep in scale with the size of your house, they are usually easier to maintain, have a more regular growth habit, grow in a more confined area like patios or courtyards, and can still offer just as much in the way of aesthetics as a larger flowering tree.

Planting a towering oak or cedar around a small neighborhood home will eventually make your property feel like The Little Creepy Cottage in the Woods. Not only will you feel uncomfortable, so will your closely-situated neighbors. Having large trees on a small property end up dwarfing the house, hiding it from the street, and providing an overwhelming feeling around the entire area. Having smaller trees, properly placed, will keep the area feeling "right," and will keep these newer, smaller houses feeling in scale with their surroundings.

Providing a smaller area with trees and shrubs with a more regular growth habit will also keep the area to scale, and smaller trees can provide a lot of that for you. With a regularly growing tree, you will not be caught off-guard by a sudden growth spurt or other quick, significant change. By picking out a nicely sized smaller tree, you will not have to guess at what the eventual look of the plant will be; it will already be showing you. A tree with a regular growth habit will also require less pruning and general upkeep from you, which can be a godsend for those of us with perpetually busy lives.

Don't think that because you are restricting yourself to a selection of smaller trees for your landscape, you have less to choose from in the way of aesthetics or quality. Smaller trees have much more to offer than just their diminutive size. Since many smaller trees have been selected and bred for the landscape, particular attention has been paid to desirable traits such as flowers, fall color, form, and leaf color. As a result, there are many different trees to choose from. The world is your golden aster, so to speak.

Smaller trees also have the added benefits of requiring less space, water, and nutrients to live. Planting smaller trees and shrubs in more confined spaces like container pots or cement- bound areas usually poses no problem to the plant, and can add great visual impact to your landscape.

No discussion about small trees would be sufficient without some great examples, so the following is a much-abbreviated list to get you started. Here in the deep South, a great staple of the small-tree world is the crepe myrtle, of which there are some forms that get no larger than three feet high. There are also some smaller selections of southern magnolia, Japanese maple, and waxleaf ligustrum to pick from. A bit farther north, you can add sourwood, eastern redbud, serviceberry, and dwarf Alberta spruce to your list. Some other trees to try (if you've the climate for it) include flowering apricot, smoke tree, loquat, and paperbark maple. These examples listed are only the mere beginnings of an ample tome of small tree options.

Before you begin to feel overwhelmed by your landscape, plan ahead and consider how a smaller tree just might be the best choice to blend in with your home and landscape. The benefits and selection of contemporary smaller trees can be much more fitting with today's modern properties than the towering trees of years past. With proper planning, design, and implementation, you can create a magnificent landscape with the smallest of enhancements.


 

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