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Eden Design, March 4 2022

Trees for the Home Landscape

Nature has a way of invigorating, inspiring and evoking serenity and tranquility.  As landscape designers we try to bring these qualities to our projects, and trees are the most invaluable tool nature has to offer us. They can provide privacy, create intimacy, soften hard lines,  ground architecture and bring structures into scale.   It's critical, though, to select the right scale of tree for your property.

The overhead canopy of a tree has a unique way of adding intimacy to an outdoor space.  We innately feel a sense of well-being and comfort beneath the protection of a structure.  The branches of a tree can deliver this sense of overhead protection and, if positioned strategically, the shade they cast can also be very welcome in the heat of summer. 

Many of our clients have a property that is typically suburban in size so one of their top requests is often privacy.   Fencing can provide instant privacy but doesn't screen the view of taller structures like neighbouring homes.   No matter how tranquil a landscape we create for our clients, if the views beyond aren't pleasant,  visual clutter exists above the fence.  Fencing doesn't address the "fish bowl" problem either --- that is, people not wanting to be in view from neighbouring upper windows.   The right trees can provide the solution.

Now that we've explored just a few of the reasons to include trees in your landscape, it's time to talk about scale considerations.  As homeowners, we need to be mindful of our neighbours.  This means not planting trees on our own properties whose canopies extend well beyond our own.  But many of our favourite trees are actually what are considered estate trees, meaning that their height and/or canopies can be very large.  Many oak trees, for example, have a mature canopy width of over 50'.   Not everyone wants the degree of shade, leaf litter and root competition that is presented by such trees.

Width isn't the only potential issue with estate trees.  Overhead power lines can present another constraint for suburban properties.  To avoid future problems,  only trees with a mature height of less than 15 to 20 feet should be planted below power lines. 

Here's where small scale trees come to the rescue. These trees deliver the desirable qualities we want, without the potential size problems associated with estate trees.  Some small scale trees are columnar in form so that their width doesn't become a problem, while others stay shorter so that height doesn't become an issue.   In some cases, the line between shrub and tree is blurred as a large shrub that is pruned effectively can act as a small tree.  An arborist can do this type pruning but it's an easy task for homeowners to undertake once armed with a bit of knowledge.

Here are some of my favourite smaller scale trees, all hardy to our Zone 5a in Ottawa:

Columnar Norway SprucePicea abies 'Cupressina'

  •  Mature size: 8' - 10' wide, 20' high
  • Compact "Christmas tree" form
  • Mature size: 8' - 10' wide, 20' high
  •  Mature size: 8' - 10' wide, 20' high

Columnar Cedar, Thuja occidentalis 'Degroots Spire' or 'Emerald'

  • Mature size: 4'-5' wide, 15'-20'h
  • Evergreen needles create privacy year-round 
  • Stays very columnar so can be  used to create a solid hedge or spaced to be separate columnar trees

Columnar Colorado Blue SprucePicea pungens 'Iseli Fastigiate'

  • Mature size: 10'-15' wide, 25'-30'high
  • Bright blue needles provide year-round interest
  • Compact "Christmas tree" form

Columnar Sugar MapleAcer saccharum 'Barrett Cole' 

  • Mature size: 10' wide, 30' high
  • Showy orange-red fall colour

Columnar Maidenhair TreeGinkgo biloba 'Fastigiata'

  • Mature size: 10'wide, 30' high
  • Unique fan-shaped leaves and gold-yellow fall colour

Hannah's Heart Katsura TreeCercidiphyllum japonicum  'Hannah's Heart'

  • Mature size: 10' wide, 25' high
  • Unique heart-shaped leaves turning yellow in fall

Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis

  • Mature size: 15' wide, 20' high
  • White, early spring flowers followed by small berries in summer that attract birds and orange-red fall colour

Makamik Crabapple, Malus 'Makamik'

  • Mature size: 15'wide, 20' high
  • Very showy purple-pink flowers in early spring followed by red crabapples
  • Many small scale cultivars of crabapples exist with varying flower and fruit colour
  • Many columnar forms are available too

Nannyberry, Viburnum lentago

  • Mature size: 8' - 10' wide, 15' high
  • White flowers in summer followed by blue-black fruit that attracts birds and reddish-purple fall colour
  • Shade tolerant
  • Needs regular pruning to maintain a pleasing multi-stem tree form

Bloodgood Japanese MapleAcer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

  • Mature size: 15' wide, 20' high
  • Burgundy leaves that change to red in fall
  • Shade tolerant
  • Should be protected from harsh winter winds

Amur MapleAcer ginnala 'Ruby Slippers' or 'Flame'

  • Mature size: 15' - 20' wide, 15' - 20' high
  • Showy red samaras in summer and red fall leaf colour 

White Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus

  • Mature size:  15'wide, 15' high
  • Fragrant white flowers in late spring

Susan MagnoliaMagnolia x  'Susan'

  • Mature size: 12' wide,  12' high
  • Very showy purple-pink flowers in early spring
  • Should be protected from harsh winter winds

Diane Witch HazelHamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'

  • Mature size: 12 ' wide, 12' high
  • Unique spider-like, coppery-red flowers in early spring and orange-red fall colour
  • Shade tolerant
  • Should be protected from harsh winter winds

Charles Joly French Hybrid LilacSyringa vulgaris 'Charles Joly'

  • Mature size: 7' wide, 8' high
  • Other cultivars with similar form: 'Ludwig Spaeth', 'Madame Lemoine', 'Beauty of Moscow'
  • Needs pruning to create a multi-stem tree form

Peegee Hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora'

  • Mature size: 10' wide, 8' high
  • Showy white flowers in early summer turn pinkish in fall
  • Needs pruning to create a multi-stem tree form

This is just a small sampling of the smaller scale tree options that are available.  Don't be afraid to add a tree to your landscape --- you'll be amazed what valuable qualities they bring.  Select a tree that is the right scale for your property and you won't regret it. 

Written by

Eden Design


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