How to Select Flowering Trees for Your Garden
Surrounds garden managers Tom Kniezewski and Kohler Brafford say there are many types of flowering trees, both native and hybrid, that work well in Northern Virginia gardens. In addition to spring and summer blossoms, ornamental trees offer other expressions such as: fruits, unusual bark color and texture, fall color and sculpture-like branch structure that add extra spice to your garden design.
Aesthetic & Practical Aspects of Flowering Tree Selection
To begin, here are some characteristics that Tom and Kohler suggest you keep in mind as you choose your flowering trees:
Height. Know how much space the tree will need when it matures because this determines where and how it will fit into the landscape composition. Use tall trees for distant planting. Large trees need open space to make a statement.
Shape. Planted near the house, in a small courtyard, overhanging a pool or lining a walkway you want a smaller tree that is vase shaped rather than one that will be spreading wide. Trees that spread wide can be used for screening along a property line.
Required Conditions. The basics are: the right soil composition, sunlight/shade differential, and optimal temperature range
Seasonal Rotation. Some trees bloom in early spring; others bloom later and continue blooming through the summer
Aesthetic Qualities. Aside from blossom color and size there are fragrance, foliage, fruit, bark texture and branch structure to consider when selecting trees.
Seasonal Interest. Some trees produce fall leaf colors, others reveal bark color, texture and structural interest in winter.
The ‘Must Have’ Flowering Trees for the Well Designed Garden
Sometimes people plant too close to their house because they don’t realize a type of Crape Myrtle they’ve selected may get to 30 or 40 tall once it matures. Tom Kniezewski, Garden Care Manager & Horticultural Specialist
Surrounds Garden Care Managers Tom Kniezewski and Kohler Brafford agreed on this short list of favorites—and one to avoid. These tree varieties are native to Northern Virginia or non-natives that adapt well to the climate.
1-Eastern Redbud is native to Northern Virginia and there are many unique varieties on top of the common species. In its natural environment, redbud is an understory tree that thrives in partial shade beneath taller canopy trees. So, avoid planting them in a full sun environment. They will grow—just not as vigorously.
Redbuds bloom red or vibrant deep pink in early spring. Then, they fill out with large heart-shaped leaves that are about the size of your hand. You can get single stem or multi-stem varieties that reach 20 or 30 feet at maturity. The blossoms attract honeybees and the seeds attract songbirds.
2-Dogwood is a versatile understory tree that will be happy when placed in a moist woodland landscape. But they can also serve as specimen trees because they can tolerate full sun. We like to plant two types of dogwood in our landscapes.
Cornus Florida is a native variety that blooms white or pink in early spring. It attracts insects that birds like to eat. Birds return in the fall to eat the clusters of red berries that ripen over the summer.
Cornus Kousa. We also like this import (China). Although it blooms later than Cornus Florida, the Kousa has an exfoliating bark that provides visual interest year round—especially in winter. Night lighting brings out the texture and contrasting tones in the bark. Of special note: The Kousa is more resistant to borers and other insect invaders. So, if the birds in your area are too well fed to keep the insects in check, the Kousa dogwood might be a better choice.
3-Magnolia. There are many varieties. There five that we like to put into our landscape and garden designs. These first three are deciduous and bloom in early spring.
Star Magnolia has a white ten-wheel flower
Saucer Magnolia so named for the large bowl shaped blossoms
Jane Magnolia is the mostly commonly planted cultivar. It presents large purple tulip flower. Jane Magnolias require a well-drained soil.
Sweetbay Magnolia has a very fragrant white flower and does well in wet soils
Southern Magnolia is an evergreen with large waxy leaves. It blooms in mid summer (June-July). This is a large tree that can reach 40 or even 60 feet at maturity. It is also a versatile tree. It enjoys full sun but can also tolerate a moist environment.
4-Cherry. Most flowering cherry trees come from Southeast Asia. Three species do exceptionally well in Virginia. They are Yoshino Cherry (the type you see along the Tidal Basin in DC), Kwanzan Cherry and Okame Cherry. All show off white or pink blossoms in early spring.
5-Crape Myrtle is a widely used tree in the Southern landscape and many varieties have been bred to be more cold tolerant. All crape myrtles have American Indian names. There is one called “Potomac” used around Northern Virginia. Blossoms arrive mid to late summer and come in almost any color you want.
The Natchez Crape has unusual exfoliating bark that is cinnamon red in color. Kohler says the large pure white flowers set against the red bark makes a great combination. The Natchez also produces fall color when leaves turn yellow and reddish orange.
Most crapes are multi-stemmed. They grow in clusters of three to five. They have a petite profile and grow to about 15 feet. But some varieties grow 30 or 40 feet high. This makes the Myrtle more versatile in that it can be planted in a variety of different settings depending on how it fits into the overall landscape design and planting plan. Tip: It’s best to plant myrtles in a protected area (along a fence or next to the house). If you plant them out in the open, sustained winter wind can freeze the tree and cause the bark to split.
Two Thumbs Down for The Bradford Pear Tree
The Bradford Pear has really nice white flowers that people like. But Surrounds won’t plant them because they don’t last. Kohler Brafford, Garden Care & Horticultural Specialist
One spring blooming tree that you DON’T want to add to your landscape is Bradford Pear. These were planted very heavily in the 80’s because they are fast growing, inexpensive and have showy flowers. You see them everywhere. However the problem goes beyond the fact that this tree has been over used. First, they are highly susceptible to a disease called fire blight. The blight can quickly kill an entire row of them. And second, because they grow so rapidly, the wood is weak. Bradfords tend to break easily in wind or with a snow load.
It’s an invasive species that will spread into the native forest and start to take over. Actually, in Reston they are on the do-not-plant list. Tom Kniezewski, Garden Care Manager & Horticultural Specialist
Creating a Welcoming Landscape
A garden is by definition a place of change. The landscape you see in early morning will change by afternoon, and continue to change week by week and from season to season. So garden design & care is the art of selecting from the plant and tree species suited to your climate zone and arranging them on a welcoming landscape.
If you need help making enhancements to your garden, contact our garden management division and ask to speak with one of our horticultural specialists. We love talking about the details of gardens and planting.