These tiny trees are top choices

Posted Monday, May. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Sometimes bigger isn’t better, and that’s certainly true when it comes to our shade trees. Oh, if you’re landscaping an acre or two, you gotta go big. That’s where you turn to the best — trees like the oaks (Shumard red, chinquapin, bur and live oaks), cedar elms, pecans, Chinese pistachios or standard Southern magnolias. Those are all “A-grade” big trees, and all of them reach or exceed 50 feet in height or width.

There are other times when you want a tree that grows to 25 to 35 or 40 feet in height or width. Trees that mature in those sizes are great second or third trees for a larger landscape, or they are the finest choices for shade in smaller urban surroundings. That list of our best begins with ‘Little Gem’ dwarf Southern magnolia. It’s the best of the bunch, growing to 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide. It’s evergreen, and it produces fragrant white flowers late every spring. In all respects (height and width, flower and leaf size), it matures at half the size of standard Southern magnolias.

Other good intermediate trees include most of the redbud selections, golden raintree, Mexican plum and the adapted maples (Caddo, bigtooth and Shantung). Ornamental pears would be all-stars at this size if it weren’t for their weak branching structure and susceptibility to cotton root rot. However, for those willing to take the chances, the variety ‘Aristocrat’ ornamental pear has wider branch angles, so it’s less likely to be lost to split trunks 10 or 12 years after planting. Bradford pears are notoriously weakly branched.

But what do you choose if you want a tree that matures out at a still smaller size? What trees will grow to be no taller than 15 or 18 feet tall and 12 or 14 feet wide? Here are some of the best for North Central Texas. You’re always advised to seek the final approval of a Texas Master Certified Nursery Professional for any tree you are considering.

Tree-form crape myrtles. There are 120 or more named varieties of crape myrtles in the nursery industry. Some are much more common than others, and to some degree, those tend to be types that grow quickly to a large size (and thus are salable more rapidly). Genetically, they are shrubs, but we remove side branches to train them into tree form. You can find a variety list of the best types by size by going to http://crapemyrtletrails.org/best.html.

Yaupon holly. This is a native East Texas shrub that we’ve grown trained as a small tree for the past 60 years. It’s usually grown multi-trunked, and it attains 15 to 18 feet in height and width. Only the female plants will produce fruit, so either buy a named variety that has been propagated asexually, or select a plant that already has fruit on it. It’s good in sun and shade.

Possumhaw holly. This deciduous native grows to 18 feet tall and 12 to 15 feet wide. Its leaves resemble yaupon holly’s foliage, but its fruit is larger. The variety ‘Warren’s Red’ is far superior to specimens dug out of nature.

‘Teddy Bear’ Southern magnolia. We’ve only had this very dwarf Southern magnolia for 8 or 10 years. It grows to 16 to 18 feet tall and 10 to 12 feet wide, although it has normally sized leaves and flowers. Like other Southern magnolias, it’s evergreen — the perfect small accent tree for the corner of the house or an entryway bed.

Dogwoods. In East Texas soils, these grow to be 25 to 30 feet tall and wide, but in our more challenging alkaline soils and with our alkaline irrigation water, they normally won’t grow that large. They require significant soil preparation of large quantities of organic matter (sphagnum peat moss, compost, rotted manure and finely ground pine bark mulch). They grow best with morning sun, then shade all afternoon long.

Texas mountain laurel. Stately little trees that are native to Southwest Texas. Glossy evergreen foliage topped by fragrant purple bloom sprays each spring. Requires well-draining soil and occasional winter protection in colder parts of North Central Texas.

Dwarf redbuds. In recent years, we’ve been blessed with several outstanding small redbuds. Mexican redbud is commonly sold multi-trunked, and it grows to 18 feet tall and wide. The ‘Traveler’ (weeping) and ‘Don Egolf’ (dwarf) are smaller still. All three do well in shade or partial shade, and all have deep burgundy flowers.

Japanese maples. These are current stars of our gardens. There are several hundred named varieties, but local nurseries typically offer only 10 or 12 types. Some have purplish leaves, while others are green. Some are star-shaped, while others are quite frilled. Know how tall and wide your space is before you go shopping. Do your homework. Be sure you have ample space for the plant you select. The nursery tag will give some indication, and your nurseryman will be able to fine-tune your choice from there.

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