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Top 10 Landscape Trees

How to Achieve Color for All Seasons


Star magnolia (picture) is a great landscape tree for spring.

I wouldn't be without star magnolia in spring.

David Beaulieu

I am sometimes asked, "What are the best types of landscape trees for a yard?" In the present piece, I answer that question by picking ten of the best for temperate regions. But the trees in the list below do not appear in a ranked order. Instead, the order is based on the seasonal interest they provide. I begin with those valued for their spring display; I end with autumn trees and those that offer visual interest in winter. Indeed, the goal is not simply to have a collection of great specimens in the yard, but rather to have at least one specimen per season that will add pizazz to your landscaping.

Landscape Trees for Spring

Spring is for flowers. We have the rest of the year to fuss over the foliage of a tree, the novelty of a tree's bark, or the pattern in which its branches grow. But when the snow recedes and life returns, I want color -- and lots of it! Nothing furnishes color quite like flowers, whether on annuals or perennials, on shrubs or on trees. Any well-planned yard will contain at least one flowering landscape tree of exceptional beauty. Magnolia trees are among the showiest flowering landscape trees. While star magnolias bloom earlier, saucer magnolias provide a larger bloom.

You don't have to be a farmer to want to grow apple trees in your yard. It's about more than just the fruit: apple trees are beautiful bloomers in their own right! The fruit is a bonus.

Landscape Trees for Summer

But you'll want more than just flowering landscape trees that provide a floral extravaganza in spring. Fortunately, sometimes you get a "2 for 1" deal (or better) in landscaping. In this case, I mean versatile landscape trees that earn their keep during more than just one of the four seasons. Dogwood trees offer such a deal: blooms for spring, an interesting branching pattern for summer, colorful foliage for fall. As if that weren't enough, these landscape trees attract wild birds, too.

Some of the Japanese maples, too, are versatile, but in a different way: they're great "autumn trees" not only in autumn, but also during the summer season. That is, they display the vibrant colors we associate with fall foliage when most other trees still bear green leaves.

Landscape Trees for Autumn

The Japanese maples may be precocious, but some of the maples native to North America or Europe are equally beautiful as autumn trees -- and they are larger (e.g., sugar maples). Their greater size allows them to fulfill another task of landscape trees: providing shade in summer. The imposing dimensions of these landscape trees also help accentuate their fall color. In this article I look at some types of maples that, even on a cloudy fall day, will light up the yard like giant torches.

Landscape Trees for Winter

We've addressed the role of landscape trees in providing visual interest in the yard for spring, summer and fall. But what about winter? When the colorful fall foliage is gone, do your landscape trees have anything left to offer? Yes, they do -- if you've selected your landscape trees wisely. When Old Man Winter darkens your doorstep, it's time for the evergreen landscape trees to shine. For instance, why don't you take your cue from the holiday season and plant those Christmas classics, blue spruce trees?

Also popular as evergreen landscape trees is another kind of spruce, the dwarf alberta spruce. You'll often see them used in pairs to flank the entryway to a house for a formal look that strives for balance. Because dwarf Alberta spruce trees will remain relatively small for a number of years, people sometimes treat them (at least initially) as container plants.

Arborvitae does more than just look pretty year-round. This evergreen landscape tree is widely planted to create "living wall" privacy fences to screen you from the prying eyes of nosey neighbors.

Another landscape tree that offers winter interest and is planted to form privacy screens is the 'Nellie R. Stevens' holly. This one's evergreen, too, but with a twist: it's considered a "broadleaf" evergreen.

But not all landscape trees planted for winter interest bear evergreen foliage. Some just have interesting branching patterns or an unusually pleasing bark. Birches are examples of landscape trees with the latter quality.

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