Tips for Growing Flowering Trees

Flowering trees can be one of the most memorable elements of the landscape. Fragrant flowering crabapples, frothy, aromatic fringe tree flowers, and weeping cherries dripping with pink blossoms can linger in the mind well after the flowers are gone.

For a lofty layer of flowers and greenery, flowering trees are magnificent when mixed with flowering shrubs, annuals, and perennials. But they are even more important in a yard with few flowers. Tree bark -- silver, black, red, or green, either smooth or textured -- can also be beautiful. Consider, for example, stewartia's peeling bark of gray, brown, orange, or red, as well as its creamy summer flowers and great fall color. The paper bark maple, with only small, early spring flowers, has glowing exfoliating, rust-colored bark and leaves that light up orange and red in fall. And colorful fall fruits provide a feast for the eyes as well as for the birds.

Flowering trees bring surprising color and fragrance to any garden.
Flowering trees bring surprising color and fragrance to any garden.

  • Choose trees that have wide crotch angles to avoid weak branches and ice damage. The crotch (or branch) angle measures the distance between the trunk and the base of the branch. An upright branch has a narrow crotch angle of less than 45 degrees. A sturdy, wide-angled branch has a 45- to 60-degree crotch angle.

    The problem with branches that have narrow crotch angles, a common occurrence on trees like Bradford pears and plums, is that they are not well supported on the trunk. If coated with ice in a winter storm, they may split off. The narrow branching angle can also catch moisture and encourage diseases.

    Another problem arises when upright-growing branches with narrow crotch angles near the top of a young tree begin to grow as fast as the main trunk. Prune the branches back to keep the trunk taller and dominant.

    If allowed to continue in this way, the tree develops a split leader, two trunks growing side by side. In severe weather, the trunks can crack apart, and the tree may be finished for good.

  • Use spreaders on young fruit trees to correct narrow branch angles. Fruit trees are particularly prone to developing upright branches. Not only do these branches have all the problems mentioned in Hint 317, but they also grow tall and wild instead of slowing down to flower and fruit. Shifting them into a more productive mode begins with creating a wider branch angle.

    When the tree is young and flexible, you can prop short struts in the gap between a shoot and the trunk to force the branch down into a better 45-degree angle. Slightly older branches can be tied to a stake or weight to pull them down into position. Once the branches mature enough to become firm and woody, you can remove the spreaders, and the branches will stay in place.
On the next page, learn how to choose the right flowering trees for your landscape.

Some Crabapples with Small Fruit
  • American Masterpiece
  • American Salute
  • Christmas Holly
  • Donald Wyman
  • *Louisa
  • M. sargentii
  • Weeping Candied Apple
  • Spring Snow (no fruit)
  • *Camelot
  • Cankerberry
  • *Cinderella
  • *Excaliber
  • *Guinevere
  • *Lancelot
  • *Snowdrift
*Excellent choices for disease resistance

Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:
  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

Choosing Flowering Trees for Small Gardens

Flowering trees are perfect for small gardens.
Flowering trees are perfect for
small gardens.

Choose a flowering tree over a shade tree for a small garden. Not only is the size right -- you'll also get beautiful flowers as a bonus. Trees that stay under 15 feet tall include Spring Glory amelanchier, Crusader hawthorn, and Camelot crabapple. Trees that stay between 15 and 30 feet include Autumn Brilliance amelanchier, redbuds, and kousa dogwoods.
  • Choose trees that cast light shade if you want to plant a flower garden below them. Some trees allow sunlight to filter down between light branches or small leaves. Small, weeping, or long-trunked trees allow light to reach the flowers from the side during the morning and afternoon. Some good choices for mixed flower beds include crabapples, flowering plums, flowering cherries, franklin tree, golden chain tree, and Japanese tree lilac. Among the shade trees, consider honey locusts, ironwood, and birches.

  • Avoid planting large-fruited trees over patios and decks. Large crabapples, apples, pears, and other fruits and berries can mar the patio and furniture, drop on people, and make steps slippery. Sweet, ripe fruit can attract yellow jackets and other critters. Let large fruits look pretty from afar, where they can drop unheeded in mulch, lawn, or ground cover. For outdoor living areas, choose tree cultivars with small or persistent fruit that won't drop and cause a mess.

  • Buy flowering trees in the spring. Trees purchased in the fall have probably been sitting in the nursery lot all summer.
Keep reading for tips on how to plant flowering trees in your garden.

Some Smaller Flowering Trees
  • Crabapples
  • Hawthorns
  • Yellowwood
  • Palo verde
  • Flowering cherries
  • Flowering plums
  • Redbud
  • Dogwoods
  • Mountain ash
  • Tree lilacs
  • Star magnolias and other magnolias

Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:
  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.

How to Plant Flowering Trees

When adding flowering trees to your garden, plant groups of flowering trees in beds. Flowering trees look spectacular in the landscape when growing in clusters or groves, much more so than isolated individual trees. And there are other advantages to groupings. For example, in poor soils, roots can grow freely through the entire amended bed. You can water and fertilize the entire group at the same time, and the problem of mowing or trimming around the trunks is eliminated, saving time and damage to the bark.
  • Pull or cut off the burlap before covering the roots with soil when planting balled and burlapped stock. This simple bit of housekeeping can mean the difference between success and failure for the tree. Some trees are wrapped with synthetic burlap, which will not decay and allow the roots to grow free. Even natural-fiber burlap left around the roots can be slow to decay. It can wick moisture away from the young roots, a sure way to cause damage.

    Carefully measure the hole before planting a new tree.
    Carefully measure the hole before planting a new tree.

  • Carefully consider planting depth before digging the planting hole for a new tree. You should make the hole twice as wide but no deeper than the root ball. Setting the ball on solid ground that has not been fluffed by tilling or shoveling will provide a firm foundation. If the soil underneath settles or shifts, the tree can sit too deep.

  • If planting in heavy clay soil, you can plant high so that the top third to half of the root ball is above the soil surface. This allows some roots to get up and out of soggy, poorly aerated soil. Fill in around the exposed roots with good soil, and top with mulch.

  • Check the accuracy of your planting hole depth using a shovel handle. When you think the hole may be deep enough, set the root ball inside. Lay the shovel handle across the top of the hole. It should be even with or slightly lower than the top of the root ball.

  • Plant beneath your trees with ground covers if you don't want a sea of mulch under them. Ground covers become a carpet of greenery and prevent mowing complications and root competition that can plague trees planted in turf.
Want more gardening tips? Try visiting these links:
  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.