Picking a Winner: Choosing the Right Flowering Tree

Although a crabapple sounds as if it should be a mean-spirited miser, you need only view one in full flower to see what a generous bloomer it can be. Not only will it transform your landscape in spring, it also makes “little green apples” that color to delight your feathered friends in autumn.

Flowering trees also increase a property’s value, providing that they remain flourishingly attractive. To ensure that they do, you will want to choose those which pass the Five S Test—being appropriate for your site, sun, soil, and saturation, as well as providing a succession of attractive qualities.

Site: If you plan to position a tree close to your house, look long and hard at its mature size. All too often, a one-story house can appear to be dominated by an overgrown tree leaning into or looming over it, like the giant over Jack. A gallery pear, for example, provides a profusion of white blossoms in spring and burnished burgundy fall foliage, but some cultivars may grow to 50 feet.  So, if you want that lacey luxuriance, try to give it a site away from low buildings.  

Sun: Most flowering plants, including trees, need as much sun as they can get. If the location you have in mind is shaded for part of the day, consider a dogwood, redbud, or other originally forest’s-edge tree which can thrive under those conditions. Should your site not receive any sun at all, you may want to opt instead for shade flowering trees such as buckeyes and serviceberries.  

Soil: Not all ornamental trees are picky about soil. Crabapples, Callery pears, and flowering cherries can grow in almost any ground which isn’t soggy. However, trees which prefer somewhat acidic conditions—such as dogwoods and magnolias—may look jaundiced due to chlorosis if subjected to overly alkaline soil.  

Saturation: Moisture is mixed up with soil, in more ways than one, in that heavier soils hold it better than sandy ones do. That may or may not be a good thing depending on the tree you have in mind. Redbuds, for example, sometimes sulk if planted in overly saturated heavy clay, but should respond positively to humus-rich, damp but well-drained soil similar to the forest type.

Succession: Since the blooms on flowering trees generally don’t last long, you’ll want to keep in mind what will succeed them. To provide a full line-up of “coming attractions,” you can plant several trees which will bloom one after the other: redbud in early spring, dogwood in late spring, and crape myrtle in summer, for example.

Alternatively, you might want to choose a single tree with unusually hued foliage—such as purple-leafed plum—which can continue to provide a splash of color in the landscape after its flowers have fallen. Even a tree which remains green over the summer can produce a second “bloom” of brightly hued foliage in autumn.

And sometimes more than colorful leaves. Trees don’t flower to delight onlookers, after all, but in an attempt to produce fruit. Although not all of the fruit on ornamental species is edible to humans, it can be appealing to birds, but it may be a nuisance if it creates litter and seedlings in your lawn. If that bothers you, choose trees which are sterile such as the Kanzan (Kwanzan) cherry or the Callery pear.

Actually, there should be one more S: satisfaction. Even if a certain tree is ideal for your property, it isn’t perfect if you don’t like it. In that case, choose the tree you do love and change its site rather than your mind!