Small Ornamental Trees

The Selection of Hardy Ornamental Trees for Midwest and Northern Climates Continues to Grow

Ornamental trees, generally 6 to 25 or 30 feet, typically add year round interest with beautiful shapes, spring flowers and fall colors, berries or seed pods.  An ornamental tree can be a rose tree or a grafted evegreen, even a topiary evergreen. Use small and dwarf trees to add a point of interest, shade a patio, or enhance an entryway. Many large shrubs are easily pruned to a small ornamental tree, such as viburnums, late lilacs and winged euonymus. Some are pre-pruned to tree form at the nurseries. Be sure you are willing to maintain the pruning or your ornamental tree will quickly begin to revert to shrub form. Keep one leader branch, removing most horizontal branches from the ground up until the leader is at least 4 feet tall. Then let it branch out.

Small and dwarf ornamental trees benefit from spring fertilization.  Use a slow release granular fertilizer with equal parts NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium).  Sprinkle around the root zone according to directions in spring.

Aesculus pavia  Dwarf Red Buckeye

  • Zones: 4-9

  • Sun: Full sun to part shade

  • Height: 10-20’

  • Spread: 10-20’

  • Shape: Rounded dense crown

  • Growth Rate: Slow to moderate

  • Soil Preference: Prefers moist well drained, deeply cultivated soil. Somewhat adaptable.

  • Moisture: Average to high moisture requirements

  • Foliage: Large leaves are drooping and dark green, 5 leaflet, coarse texture.

  • Blooms: 6-9” erect, loose clusters of carmine red flowers in late spring to early summer.

  • Fruit: Leathery capsules in fall.

The Dwarf Red Buckeye is one of the first to open leaves in spring, a month ahead of oaks and maples.  But the leaves are also the first to drop in autumn, with no color change.  The early blooms are one of the first food sources for hummingbirds.  But the early blooms may be susceptible to late frosts, particularly in zone 4.  Dwarf Red Buckeye will bloom when the tree is still very young.  Plant in full to mostly sun for best flowering.  The small tree is clump forming and can be grown as a large shrub or multi-trunk tree.  Prune lower lateral branches to maintain a tree form.  Excellent small ornamental tree for a woodland garden or near a patio. 

Amelanchier canadensis Shadbush

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  • Zones: 3-7

  • Sun: Full sun to part shade

  • Height: 10-25 feet

  • Spread: 10-25 feet

  • Shape: Rounded bushy crown with upright branches

  • Growth Rate: Moderate

  • Soil Preference: Moist well drained soil, Neutral to acidic pH. Adaptable to sand, clay or loam

  • Moisture: Average water needs, moderately drought tolerant

  • Foliage: Shiny green leaves that are white and fuzzy when young, elliptic toothed leaves

  • Blooms: White

  • Fruit: Showy edible fruit

There is some confusion in the nursery trade and even among botanists regarding the Shadbush tree.  It is often confused with the Amelendhier arborea Downy Serviceberrry.  They are very similar, the only notable difference is the Downy Serviceberry blooms a bit earlier and has larger flowers.  The Shadbush and Downy Serviceberry are generally multi-stemmed trees or shrubs.  Minimal pruning of the main trunk and stems will keep it in tree form quite easily.  Downy Serviceberry is the maintains the most tree-like form of the serviceberries.  White upright clusters of flowers are produced in early spring just as the leaves begin to open.  The bloom period is quite brief, but the flowery show is wonderful.  Eventually the blooms give way to tiny red or blue-black fruits that are quite show and attract birds.  Bright green foliage turns brilliant yellow-orange or red in fall, one of the first trees to color.  Amelanchier Shadbush and Downy Serviceberry prefer a filtered shade if possible and moist to wet soil.  However they are quite adaptable to drier soil if they receive adequate water when they are establishing.  Amelanchier commonly produces root suckers, the grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’ is not so persistent with suckers.  Amelanchier is generally not afflicted with serious disease or insect problems.  May occasionally be affected by rust. leaf spot or powdery mildew or bothered by leaf miners, borers or scale. Amelanchier are typically not bothered by deer.   Amelenchier have a lovely form that is perfect against a shady woodland setting or in a shrub border.  With moderate salt tolerance and pollution tolerant this would also be an excellent choice for street planting.

Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’

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  • Zones: 3B-8

  • Sun: Full sun to part shade

  • Height: 15-25 feet

  • Spread: 15-25 feet

  • Shape: Vase shaped, upright branches

  • Growth Rate: Moderate to fast

  • Soil Preference: Average well drained soil, will tolerate a wide range of soils that are well drained.

  • Moisture: Average water needs, moderately drought tolerant

  • Foliage: Blue green leaves, finely toothed elliptic leaves

  • Blooms: White

  • Fruit: Showy edible fruit

‘Autumn Brilliance’ is a hybrid Apple Serviceberry tree, also known as the Juneberry tree.  It can be allowed to get shrubby, or side shoots can be periodically pruned from the trunk.  This Serviceberry is often sold in a tree form with a single or multiple trunks, and is fairly easy to maintain the form.  ‘Autumn Brilliance’ flowers early, producing lightly fragrant drooping clusters of white blooms tinged with pink, that mature fully white.  The blooms are larger than the original Serviceberry hybrid, creating a spectacular display in early spring.  Small round berries follow the blooms.  The berries are green when young and turn red, then when fully mature the berries are dark purple-black.  The berries are edible and sweet.  The leaves open purplish then are blue green in summer, turning bright orange red in autumn.  The outstanding ornamental features from spring through fall make ‘Autumn Brilliance’ an excellent specimen tree in the home landscape.  It is a small enough ornamental to be well suited to a shrub border.  Overall it is easy to grow and maintain, despite occasional pruning of side shoots and suckers.  Pruning is not generally required, but should be done in late winter or very early spring.  Disease resistance is very good, but may occasionally be attacked by leaf miners or aphids.  This sturdy tree is tough enough to use in the street boulevard or planting strips that are 6 feet wide, and is moderately tolerant of soil salt.  ‘Autumn Brilliance’ will grow to 10 feet in five to ten years depending on conditions.

Amelanchier laevis Allegheny Serviceberry

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  • Zones: 4-9

  • Sun: Full sun, part shade, shade

  • Height: 15-25 feet

  • Spread: 15-25 feet

  • Shape: Vase shaped irregular crown with upright branches

  • Growth Rate: Moderate

  • Soil Preference: Moist well drained soil of coarse loam, but will tolerate a range of soils, Neutral to acidic pH.

  • Moisture: Average water needs, may be sensitive to drought

  • Foliage: 1-3” simple elliptic leaves, finely toothed, shiny green

  • Blooms: Lightly fragrant drooping clusters of small white blooms in April or May

  • Fruit: Showy edible fruit

Allegheny Serviceberry is a multi-trunk tree or shrub that is quite adaptable to sun, part shade or shade.  Flowering will be at its’ best in full sun.  In more shade the crown form will be more open and graceful.  Allegheny Serviceberry will be more tolerant to short periods of drought once it is well established.  In consistently moist soil it will grow tall and fast.  Under ideal conditions it is possible this Serviceberry could reach 30-40 feet high and wide.  Clusters of fragrant white blooms form before the leaves, later giving way to berries in summer.  The berries mature from magenta red to purple to dark purple-black, reaching ripened maturity in June, often called Juneberry because of it.  The edible berries are a good source of iron and copper, and are juicier than those of Amelanchier arborea.  The berries have a taste similar to blueberries. The leaves emerge bronzed purple and mature to a shiny green, with dense fine branching.  The foliage turns red, yellow or orange in autumn.  Serviceberry can be somewhat sensitive to disease and insect problems, but not serious enough to cause serious problems.  Allegheny Serviceberry is very easy to grow and provides year round interest in the landscape.  The flowers will attract bees and butterflies in spring, the berries will attract birds which minimizes berry litter.  Allegheny Serviceberry is very similar to Amelanchier arborea Downy Serviceberry.  The only notable difference is Allegheny Serviceberry has a smooth hairless leaf, purple-bronze new growth and a sweeter juicier berry.  Allegheny Serviceberry is fine textured and graceful, and is a wonderful choice for shrub borders, woodland edge or ornamental accent tree.  It is moderately tolerant of air and soil salt as well as urban pollution, so it will do well as a street or boulevard tree.  Maintaining a tree form will require occasional pruning, easiest to maintain if purchased pruned to tree form.  Unpruned in shrub form and planted 10 to 20 feet apart they will form a tall informal hedge or privacy screen.

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River Birch: Full Sun to part shade  zones 2-8.  River Birch are great for moist areas, has beautiful exfoliating bark, and a bright gold fall color. Birch generally have multiple trunks and an oval form.  Most Birch prefer cold northern climates, do best in moist soil and do not tolerate shade.  River Birch produce both male and female flowers.  The male flowers are long catkins and are produced in autumn, generally remaining on the tree through winter.  In spring the male catkins produce a lot of pollen.  Female catkins are produced in spring, are pollinated, and form fruit.  The fruit is an inch long “cone” filled with seed.  Some birch tend to sucker, controlling them can be difficult.  Many cultivars are hardy to zone 2 and some can reach as tall as 70’.  River Birch does best in a moist well drained site, but tolerates compacted soils and wet conditions.  A smaller birch which is very hardy is the Betula pendula ‘Youngii’.  It grows from 6 to 12 feet with “weeping” branches, drooping toward the ground.  Birch tend to have a shorter life expectancy than most trees and grows quite quickly.  It is hardy to zone 3.

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Blue Beech:  This Minnesota native will do well all over the Midwest.  It will tolerate shade, and drought or heavy moisture.  The foliage spreads wide, turning orange-red in the fall.  Sometimes known as the musclewood tree because of the bark’s muscular twist.  To 25’ high and wide.


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Bradford Pear:  This tree must be mentioned, not because of it’s reliable performance, but because of it’s serious weaknesses.  A shame, because it is a beautiful flowering tree, and very tempting to plant.  It is extremely susceptible to wind and ice damage, often losing large limbs, if not toppling completely.  In northern and midwest climates, strong winter winds combined with snow and ice build up can cause serious damage to the tree. The blooms produce an unpleasant smell, and the fruit causes a bit of a mess.  Still, in the right place, it is a beautiful, well shaped tree.


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Amur Chokecherry: (Prunus mackii)  Full sun Hardy in zones 4-6.  This rounded tree displays lots of white flowers in spring and small black berries in fall. Shiny bronze bark is very showy against a snowy landscape, a primary reason for planting this tree. Requires moist well drained soil.  Mackii tends to be less susceptible to disease and insects than the general Prunus genus.  Reaches 20-30 feet and 25-30 feet wide. Available in clump or single trunk, and requires pruning to maintain tree form.  Sometimes referred to as simply Amur Cherry, claims have been made to be hardy to zone 2.


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Chinese Dogwood:  (Cornus kousa) Part to Full Sun  Zones 5-8.  Showy flowerheads appear just after the tree begins to leaf out in early spring, lasting into early summer.  The petals gradually turn from white to pink.  The branching form is lovely, and in autumn the foliage is a brilliant bronze, with bright red fruit.  The fruit puts on a show of it’s own, being similar in size and color to a raspberry. 

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Both birds and butterflies are attracted to this flowering ornamental.  It will grow well in average, well drained soil with medium moisture, it does not tolerate drought well, be sure to keep watered in dry spells.   It will reach 18-25’ high, and up to 25’ wide.  Displays good cold hardiness, and claims of hardiness to zones 3 and 4 have been made, but is probably risky.  Cornus kousa will resist disease better than Cornus florida, and will perform better in midwestern areas.


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Crab Apple: Full Sun,  Hardiness varies, generally hardy in zones 4-8.  Fruit trees of any kind do not care for wet soils, so well drained loamy soil is required, avoid clay.  Plant where they have good air circulation so the leaves stay dry, wet leaves will promote diseases that fruit trees are prone to.  Many of the crabs form flower buds quite early, making them susceptible to frost damage.  Crab trees hardy enough for zone 4 will generally bud a little later. The bark and young stems of Crab Apple trees are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.  Numerous varieties and forms are available. Most spring flower shows are spectacular, especially on the larger trees. Ranging in size from 15 to 25 feet, with rounded, oval, pyramid or weeping shapes, you can find a crab tree for any spot. Look for disease resistant foliage. Some of the best varieties for zone 4 include 'Prairie Fire' (rounded 15-20', prolific pink-red blooms in May and purplish foliage and dark red bark similar to cherry tree bark.  It is disease resistant and grows to a dense rounded form.), 'Sparkler' (will tolerate moist conditions, but will do better in well drained soil, ‘Sparkler’ is a wide spreading tree reaching 15’ high and up to 25 ‘ wide. It blooms a bright rose red in mid to late spring.  Hardy to zone 3.), 'Indian Summer' (very disease resistant and fairly adaptable to a wide range of soils, ‘Indian Summer’ grows to 12-14 feet  Rose red blooms appear in April.), 'Donald Wyman' (upright, rounded to 20'.  White flowers are produced in spring and a showy red fruit in fall that does not fall and make a mess.  High disease resistance.) and 'Adams' (densely rounded reaching 20-24’ high and  18-20’ wide.  Red buds fade to pink blooms in May, and foliage turns orange-red in fall). The ‘Louisa Weeping Crab’ weeps gracefully, with pink flowers.  So many more! Check them all out at the garden centers.


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Pagoda Dogwood: Part Shade to full sun  Hardy in zones 3-6.  The graceful horizontal branching of this dogwood is rare in northern hardy trees (see also the Hawthorn). Creamy flower clusters appearing in spring are quite fragrant. Foliage turns purplish red in fall, and dark fruits are produced. Will tolerate some shade. This Minnesota native is hardy to zone 4, and reaches 10-15 feet, with a 20-25 foot spread. 'Argentea' should be hardy all the way to zone 3 if you can find one -try mail-order catalogs. Its' small green leaves are heavily marked with white for striking bright leaves, and produce highly fragrant white blooms.


This tall shrub reaches 15 feet high and 20-25 feet wide, and requires base pruning to form a tree. 'Venus' may also be hardy to zone 4, if you can find one. Growing to 20 feet high, and 20-30 feet wide, this fast growing tree produces 6 inch white blooms in spring. Sun to part shade.  Several varieties of hardy flowering dogwood are available with standard branching structures and beautiful spring flowering.  They generally grow well in most ordinary soils but prefer moist, well drained..  Most are hardy to zone 5, some to zone 4.


Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’ Ruby Red Horse Chestnut

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  • Zones: 5-8

  • Sun: Full sun to part shade

  • Height: 25-35’

  • Spread: 25-35’

  • Shape: Oval to rounded crown

  • Growth Rate: Moderate

  • Soil Preference: Prefers moist, fertile, well drained soil, will tolerate average soil.

  • Moisture: Average moisture requirements

  • Foliage: Dark green, 5 leaflet, coarse texture. Turns brown in October

  • Blooms: 8-10” erect, full clusters of deep red flowers in May

  • Fruit: 1 1/2” round, prickly, poisonous

Ruby Red Horsechestnut is a bit smaller than Red Horse Chestnut.  The flower clusters are a deep red and larger than the species.  It is less susceptible to fungal disease. Dry conditions may cause leaf scorch and a general decline in the tree’s health, so make sure it receives adequate moisture in dry periods.  ‘Briotii” develops a tap root so it very difficult to move once established.   The wood tends to be soft and weak, sometimes breaking limbs under the weight of heavy snow.  Prune crossed or wayward interior branches to encourage a strong structure.  Horse Chestnut bleeds extensively and should be pruned midsummer after new growth has matured and bloom period is done.  A very popular cultivar of Aesculus.

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Winged Euonymus: (Euonymus alatus)  Part to full sun  Zones 4-8.  The large form, rather than the dwarf, of the ‘Burning Bush’ will prune to a striking tree, especially in fall when it turns blazing red. Adding to the winter interest is a bark of corky “wings”, that will catch and hold snow that sunlight sparkles from. The bark and young stems of Euonymus are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.Reaches a height and spread of 10-15 feet. Grow in full sun for best fall color.


Fringe Tree:  (Chionanthus virginicus)  Full sun to part shade  Hardy in zones 5-8.  Fringe tree is a slightly rounded and open shaped tree that produces panicles of white “fringed” flowers in late spring.  It prefers a moist fertile soil, but will tolerate wet conditions.  There are male and female trees, fruit will only be produced if both are present, and the males tree’s flowering is slightly more showy.  Hardiness claims have been made for zones 3 and 4, but I have never seen a Fringe tree north of zone 5.  Reaches 15-20 feet.


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Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn: Full Sun Hardy in zones 4-6.  Another horizontal branching tree, the Hawthorn may not be quite as graceful as the Pagoda Dogwood, but provides the unusual horizontal form that is rare in the northern garden.. June produces white flower clusters (not pleasantly scented) against dark glossy leaves, fall bronzy leaves are punctuated with red fruits. Prefers moist well drained soil, but is tolerant of drought.  The bark and young stems of Hawthorn trees are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.   Disease resistant and drought tolerant, reaches 15-20 feet with similar spread. Look for Inermis, which is a thornless variety.  Also look for the smaller variety, Cruzam. 


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PeeGee Hydrangea: This hardy little tree packs a big punch for it's size. Its’ rounded form begins to sag from the weight of large midsummer creamy flower pyramids. After August the blooms turn pinkish bronze and hold on through winter. Abundant flower heads make great dried flowers. Can reach 15-20 feet high and wide. 'Grandiflora' is slightly smaller, and ‘Tardiva’ is also a little smaller, blooming in August.


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Japanese Tree Lilac: Full sun  Zones 3-7.  Also Korean Tree Lilac, are exactly what you think, a fragrant (but somewhat musky) spring blooming lilac in tree form. ‘Ivory Silk’ flowers heavily at a young age with a rounded to oval shape.  ‘Summer Snow’ has a more rounded form and flowers heavily.  Trunk is shiny with long horizontal lines, similar to a cherry tree.    Usually reaches up to 30', some are dwarf growing to about 15’, or even grafted. Check with your garden center to be sure a dwarf bush, grafted to a trunk, will be hardy in your area.  Grow in a moist well drained soil.  Tolerates windy areas.  Tree lilacs generally bloom some time in June, blooming heavily every other year.  I find the fragrance to be very similar to old fashioned lilacs, but somewhat fainter and musky.  Some find the fragrance unpleasant up close, but not objectionable otherwise.


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Magnolia: Full sun  Hardy in zones 5-8.  The spring flower show of a magnolia is incredible. If you are lucky enough to be gardening in zone 5 or 6, it is likely you have already dabbled with Magnolia in your landscapes. The 'Star Magnolia' is hardiest, surviving well into zone 4 and even 3. A few others will survive, but flower buds that form in late summer may not survive the winter.

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Magnolia 'Butterflies' so far has proven to produce a more spectacular spring bloom every year since 1999 here in zone 4, so bud damage has not been a problem.  ‘Butterflies’ blooms later than the ‘Star Magnolia’,  The blooms are just beginning to open as the ‘Star’ is dropping its’ petals.  If you attempt a Magnolia in zones 3 or 4, give it the best chance by selecting a wind sheltered spot, away from other trees to eliminate root competition. They prefer moisture retentive, organically enriched, somewhat acidic soil and genera lly reach 15-20’ high.


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Amur Maple: (Acer ginnala) Full sun to part shade  Hardy in zones 3-6.  This is a clump form shrub that can be pruned to tree form, or available at nurseries in a single trunk. Frequent pruning may be necessary to maintain the tree form, and it is known to reseed itself. Amur Maple does best in moist well drained soils, but will tolerate dryness.  Unpruned it makes a great screening hedge, pruned produces an excellent specimen plant.  ‘Embers’ foliage is bright red in autumn. If you are willing to prune, and remove saplings, this graceful tree produces a spectacular red fall show. 15-20 feet high and wide.

Japanese Maple:

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Most varieties are only hardy to zone 5 or 6, and many will require pruning to maintain tree form. They generally have interesting and delicately textured leaf shapes and colors, with sensational fall color displays. Check your local nursery to find those that thrive best in your area. The 10 foot A.campestre 'Carnival' should survive in zone 4, and the leaf color display is ever changing from spring through fall.  Spring foliage is bright green edged in pink and white on red stems.  The pink turns green and the white remains in summer, then in fall the leaves turn shades of yellow.  Many zone 4 gardeners in the right micro-climate have had great success with Japanese Maples  See more information and detailsSmall Maples and Japanese Maples.

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Showy Mountain Ash: Full sun Hardy in zones 2-7.  The 'Sorbus decora' grows to 20 feet, and is hardy to zone 2. It's form is slightly rounded to ovoid with dark green leaves.  Be aware that some, specifically the Korean Mountain Ash (Sorbus alnifolia) can reach 50 feet tall.  It has an oval to rounded form and is hardy in zones 5-7.  European Mountain Ash, ‘Sorbus aucuparia’ is hardy in zones 4 to 7, and reaches about 20-40 feet tall, so also a little on the larger side.   All Mountain Ash produce white spring flowers that develop to  large showy clusters of bright red-orange fruits that hold on through winter until the birds finish them off.  Leaves are compound, multiple fine leaves on each leaf stem., The leaves are one of the first to open up in spring.   Mountain ash is resistant to pests, with the exception of borers.  The bark and young stems of Mountain Ash trees are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.  Beautiful tree, but some will produce sucker shoots.


Pussy Willow ‘Kilmarnock’:  (Salix caprea)  Full sun Hardy in zones 4-8.  “Kilmarnock’ is the most common pussy willow cultivar for garden use.  It is a male clone, the similar female clone is ‘Weeping Sally”.  ‘Pendula’, for weeping, is often attached to the cultivar name.  It is quite a delightful little tree, despite some of its’ potential problems.  Branches are stiffly weeping, and beautiful in winter when covered with catkins.  The male catkins are a quite showy, 1 1/2-2 inch silvery white, followed by golden anthers in April and May.  Fine green foliage follows.  They are grafted on erect stems of other willow, so the height is determined by the height of the trunk on which it was grafted.  They are generally sold as a small tree, the taller ones are generally marketed as a large full standard.  If sold on it’s own roots, it will creep across the ground.  Mature height of the actual bush is 18-24 inches.  Pussy Willow is fast growing, prefers moist soil conditions, and adapts to pH.  Will grow well in a large container and transplants easily.  Will also tolerate some shade.  Ideal for wet open sites.  Drawbacks in a garden or landscape:  prone to insect, disease and canker problems; suckers; constant “litter” under the tree; and prone to wind and ice limb breakage.

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Rose Tree, Polar Joy:  Full sun to part shade  Hardy in zones 4-7.  A tree rose hardy enough for zone 4, finally!  Rose trees are often a bit of work in the North and Midwest, ‘Polar Joy’ is requires the least care, as easy as any tree or shrub.  It was introduced in 2007 by Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota, experts in winter hardy plants.  This diminutive ornamental, 4 to 8 feet, is covered with continuous clusters of pink blooms.  Do protect this little darling, minimal to moderate just in case, and be sure to get “own root”, if it truly is ‘Polor Joy’ it WILL be. (Most rose trees are grafted to the stem of unknown variety.)  Check the Rose pages for detailed instructions of rose care for planting, minimal protection for zones 4 and 5, and general care.  Gardeners who have grown ‘Polar Joy’ in Minnesota zone 4 have raved about its’ hardiness even with no protection.  A stunning accent to a front entry or patio, or underplanted with groundcover roses or perennials.  Does beautifully in a large container.  Matures to a 5-8 foot tree, may be pruned to control size.


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Russian Olive: (Elaeagnus angustifolia)  Full sun  Hardy in zones 2-7.  The gray green fine foliage is particularly striking against the backdrop of dark evergreens. Russian olive is very adaptable to soil and moisture conditions.  It is not a true olive tree, so flower and fruiting is fairly insignificant.  This tree is usually thorny, so plant in a mulched landscape where foot traffic and mowing won't be a problem. Hardy to zone 2, pest and disease resistant. Reaches 20 feet high.  This tree is sometimes referred to as oleaster.


Tiger Eyes Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’):  Full sun  Zones 3-8  Tiger Eyes Dwarf Sumac is more of a shrub than a tree, but it gets quite large and has a stunnin g effect when the trunk is pruned of its’ branche s from the ground up at least a few feet.  In ten years time it will only reach about 6 feet, and you can keep it sheared to control size as a shrub.  At full maturity it can grow to 15 feet with a spread of 15 to 30 feet.  When pruned to a tree, the foliage forms a wide canopy.  The lemon green foliage turn to intense scarlet and orange in autumn.  This tree does require a maintenance commitment, not just to maintain a tree form, but it can be a moderately aggressive spreader.  The spreading is relatively slow, not nearly as aggressive as species sumac.  Underground runners will send up suckers, which need to be removed when then tree is dormant.  When allowed to mass as a shrub, the result is striking.  This gorgeous specimen tree may be worth it, both for the interesting form and bright foliage all summer, and the vibrant fall color.  Hardy in zones 3-8.  Grow in full sun for best autumn color.  Female plants will develop reddish fall fruit clusters.

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Viburnum:  Shade to full sun  Hardy in zones 2-8.  The 10' shrub Carlesii, with masses of sweet spring blooms, would be an excellent candidate for pruning to tree form. With many varieties available, the largest shrubs will work best:  American Cranberry bush reaches 8-12 feet and is hardy in zones 2-7;  Blackhaw Viburnum reaches 12-15’ and is hardy in zones 4-8;  European Cranberrybush reaches 8-12 feet and is hardy in zones 4-8.  For best results, prune a young bush hard, to one strong central leader. Continue pruning up the leader higher each year as the bush grows in height. Since continued pruning is a must, prune high enough for easy access to the trunk, but not so high that the pruning is an enormous job. Even a 2 foot trunk produces a more interesting 'shrub'.  The bark and young stems of Viburnum are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.

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Viburnum Nanyberry Tree: ‘Viburnum lentago’ Full sun to part shade  Hardy in zones 2-  This small upright shrubby tree has arching branches and white flat flower clusters in spring. Rose pink fruit in fall turns blue-black. It adapts to a variety of soils and will tolerate limited drought periods.  Fall foliage is red with fruit.  Hardy to zone 2, it reaches 20 feet tall. The Viburnum Blackhaw Tree has horizontal branches similar to the Hawthorn, and reaches 10-15 feet, hardy in zones 4-8.  Foliage turns purple-red in autumn.


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Japanese Willow: 'Hakuro Nishiki' Full sun  Hardy in zones 4-9.  The dappled willow has become widely available in garden centers up to zone 4. Its' elegant arched branches hold showy cream and pink mottled leaves. The natural form is a large shrub, but garden centers have been grafting this willow to a hardy trunk and pruning to an elegant tree. Continued pruning of trunk sprouts may be  necessary  See detailed article on ‘HakuroNishiki’ for more information.  Another variety of the ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ is also available, the ‘Flamingo’.  It is very similar, but with stronger branches and leaves.  The color on young leaves and branches is slightly more intense, and growth habit is slightly more upright and spreading.  If you haven’t seen them in your garden center yet, you probably will soon.


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 Witch Hazel: (Hamamelis virginiana ‘Common Witch Hazel’)  Full sun to part shade  Flowering tree  Hardy in zones 4-8.  This large well rounded, vase shaped shrub,  prunes very easily to a tree form by simply removing lower foliage from the bottom up.  It is multi stemmed and form is open and attractive.  Spidery yellow flowers have a spicy fragrance, blooming in October and November after foliage begins to drop.  The shrub may still be in bloom after snow is on the ground.  Leaves open reddish bronze and mature to green, finally turning yellow in fall.  Witch Hazel prefers a moist, cool, acidic soil.  Excellent for very late autumn interest and in open, natural areas.  Reaches 15 feet high and wide, has been known to reach 20 -25 feet high in good conditions.

TreesSharon Dwyer