Choosing and Cultivating Garden Trees

A well-chosen tree will become a permanent source of pleasure in the garden, offering colour and textural interest for years to come.

T rees, whether broad-leaved or conifer, are an essential part of many of the world’s most admired landscapes. In the small-scale landscape of a garden they are just as important, providing permanent vertical interest, privacy and protection, as well as contrasting scale with smaller garden plants.

In spring and summer there is the excitement of new growth, and perhaps blossom, followed by changing autumn colours and ripening fruit. In winter, trees draw attention away from the bleakness at ground level. Some have attractive bark, and evergreens provide foliage interest, while deciduous trees offer the elegant tracery of leafless branches.

Before choosing a tree, consider its ultimate height and spread, the density of shade cast in leaf, how it will look with surrounding plants, and the type of soil and conditions it needs.

Leaf colour and texture, shape, size and habit are all important, and attractive flowers, coloured bark and fruits add interest.

Don’t commit yourself until you have seen a mature specimen – it’s hard to get rid of even a disastrous tree when you have watched it grow from a sapling.

There are three main shapes: conical, such as silver fir; rounded, such as maple; and columnar, such as poplar. Weeping trees have branches which droop at the end.

The site can radically affect a tree’s eventual shape. In a wind- swept position, it will grow lopsided, branching away from the prevailing wind; planted close to other trees, it will have a relatively tall, narrow growth habit.

Plant deciduous trees from late autumn to mid spring and evergreens in mid to late autumn or mid to late spring. Dig the ground thoroughly, add plenty of organic matter and set the tree in a hole slightly wider and deeper than the root ball, which should remain intact. Newly planted trees should be staked and watered well. Once established, your tree should need little attention.

For dwarf varieties, see articles in the A-Z of Garden Plants Shrubs and climbers.

Acer maple

Beautiful in summer with its full, usually round top, maple is at its best in autumn when its foliage develops outstanding orange, red and yellow tints. Some species also have attractive striped or peeling bark. The fruits (keys) consist of a pair of winged nuts.

The leaves may have three, five, seven, nine or more lobes and are pale, mid or bright green in summer, and may be tinted red when young. The genus includes the tall, spreading sycamore, but there are numerous medium and small species and varieties suitable for gardens.

Popular species and varieties Acer capillipes, about 8m (25ft) high and across, is an upright tree with greenish, white-striped bark and red young growth. The narrow, three- lobed leaves are tinted red when they open, later turning to mid green and then crimson in autumn. The fruits hang in long clusters. Acer cappadocicum, a fast-growing, spreading tree to 9m (30ft) high and 4.6m (15ft) across, has glossy, dark green, five- or seven-lobed leaves turning rich yellow in autumn. Varieties include ‘Aureum’ (young leaves red, turning yellow then green and finally yellow in autumn) and ‘Rubrum’ (young leaves deep red). Acer carpinifoliutn (hornbeam maple), an upright, vase-shaped tree up to 6m (20ft) high and 3.7m (12ft) across, has atypical oval, corrugated, unlobed leaves turning gold and brown in autumn. It carries small, green flowers in late spring. Acer circinatum (vine maple) grows to 4.6m (15ft) high and across as a tree or 2.4m (8ft) high and across as a bush. The branches twist and spread into a round head, and the seven- or nine-lobed, rounded, mid-green leaves are red and orange in autumn. Clusters of white and red-purple flowers appear in mid spring. Acer davidii, up to 6m (20ft) high and 3m (10ft) across, has greenish grey, white-striped bark, particularly if it is grown in partial shade. The dark green, undivided, red-stalked leaves are tinged red-bronze when young, and yellow, red and purple in autumn. ‘George Forrest’ has a more open form.

Acergriseum (paperbark maple), 4.6m (15ft) high and 2.4m (8ft) across, is a slow-growing tree. The toothed, three-lobed, mid-green leaves turn brilliant red and orange in autumn. Its main feature is the cinnamon-coloured underbark revealed when the old bark peels or flakes away.

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