When homeowners begin looking for trees to plant in a landscape they usually go to the tried and true trees found in the box retail stores. Trees should be selected for their architectural qualities and their interest through particular features such as flowers, foliage, berries and bark. A good landscaper will place a tree so that its attractive characteristics are shown to enhance the landscape.
For sheer mass and duration of display, leaves are by far the most important feature. Their shape, size and color offer infinite variation, from the delicate, golden, ferny foliage of honey locust to the huge leaves of palms.
Surface texture determines how light is reflected, with glossy leaves adding a bright touch. The density of the canopy ranges from obscure to spacious, an important factor if considering planting under or around the tree.
Trees with color or variegated foliage, such as the reddish-purple of ‘Forest Pansy’ redbuds or the white-leaves of variegated boxelder, provide a mass of color that contrasts especially well with green-leaved trees.
The shape of the tree leaves can add character and interest in any landscape. The ginkgo tree has a leaf shaped like a wedge or fan-shaped. The mimosa tree grows lacy-looking foliage that gives a tropical look to any landscape.
Nothing puts more spring in landscape than flowering trees. They are a great source of color and by including a few of the late-blooming types; the blooming season can be extended for several months.
Flowers on trees, like perennial flowers, have a brief presence and range from modest to abundant of flowers. Fall, winter and early spring are especially valuable to provide a display where there may be little interest from other, still-dormant plants.
Flower colors should complement the larger design. Pale flowers stand out against dark leaves, while dark flowers show up best in a pale setting. A good example is the Southern Magnolia tree with its white flowers against dark green foliage. On the other hand, there is the mimosa or silk tree that has a mass of pink flowers in a ball-like cluster on medium green twice-compound foliage.
The American smoke tree is an interesting tree in that its numerous sterile flowers cover the tree in large quantities during June and July that gives the tree a “smoke” appearance. This tree is excellent for a small garden as a novelty effect or accent.
Fruit, berries and pods can rival or exceed flowers in beauty, ranging from the yellow crab apple ‘Golden Hornet’ to the sculptural seedpod of magnolias.
Certain trees such as hollies need cross-pollination to fruit while other only fruit when mature or when particular climate conditions are met. The fruit can add color to the landscape especially in winter when no other colors are available. For bird lovers, birds find berries tempting and will flock to them especially in the winter.
The panicle golden rain tree is another one of the unusual trees that provide year round interest into any landscape. This tree is a small tree with a multiple color combination of foliage, fall colors, bright yellow flowers in June and seed pods that resemble papery-walled, bladder-like capsule.
Bark can provide color and textural interest, especially in winter. The winter sun hits the exposed trunk, creating shadow patterns and rich browns, blacks and grays.
Most of all, bark is a textual element from the course, craggy trunk of bur oaks and persimmons to the smooth green stem of parasol tree. Using a tree for its bark can add beauty and texture to any landscape.
Then there are the trees with unusual structures such as the weeping willow and the corkscrew willow with its contorted twigs and branches and the river birch with their triple trunks. They will add interest to any dull landscape.
Jim Coe lives in Lawton and writes a weekly garden column for The Lawton Constitution.