Branching Out

Filed in Gardening by on August 9, 2014

Trees serve a number of important functions, and one of the most important is enhancing home and landscape. The trees described below are hardly in our northern climate zone and good for smaller landscapes. Whether you are looking for a tree with spring or fall color, a tree for a sunny or partly shady location, to provide shade, a screen, a focal point, or to produce fruit, the selection of any one of these trees will enhance your landscape.


Ornamental Crabapple For early spring bloom, flowering crabapples are unbeatable. ‘Prairiefire’ (Malus x Prairie Fire) is an ornamental crabapple that looks great in every season. Reddish buds appear in May, turning into pink-purple flowers  that last at least two weeks. Small, shiny, dark purplish-red fruit similar to cherries in appearance replace the flowers. Green leaves with a reddish tint become bright orange in autumn. In winter, Prairiefire’s reddish bark is lovely against white snow, and birds feed on the shiny red fruit.

  • 20 feet in height with an equal spreed; upright growth with a rounded canopy at maturity
  • Full sun
  • Disease resistant
  • Hardy to Zone 3
  •  Use as a specimen tree or plant several along a path or driveway


Pagoda Dogwood For a protected, partly-sunny location, the Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is an excellent choice. Graceful horizontal branching sets this small tree apart from others. It can be grown either as a single or a multi-trunked specimen. Its creamy, fragrant flower clusters open in early June. Birds love the purplish-black fruits that develop from the flowers. Fall foliage color is a deep burgundy.

  • 25 feet with a spread of 20 feet at maturity
  • Part shade
  • Prefer moist, well drained soil
  • Protect from winter winds
  • Hardy to Zone 3
  •  And understory tree, best planted under a large tree with other shrubs and perennials


Japanese Tree Lilac The Japanese Lilac ‘Ivory Silk’ (Syringa reticulata ‘Ivory Silk’) is an outstanding small ornamental tree. Large plumes of small white flowers cover its branches in June. The creamy white fragrant blooms arranged in clusters up to 12 inches long arise above dark green foliage. After blooming, the tree is covered with emerald-green leaves.

  • 30 feet in height and width at maturity, with a rounded to oval shape
  • Full sun
  • Prefers moist well drained soil, tolerates windy areas
  • Hardy to Zone 3
  • Deer resistant and trouble free


Maple What home landscape is complete without a maple tree for shade and autumn color? One of the best is the Freeman maple ‘Autumn Blaze’ (Acer x fremanii ‘Jeffsred’), a hybrid of the red and silver maple. It is notable for brilliant, long lasting orange-red fall color, storm-resistant branches, resistant to bugs and disease, good drought-tolerance, and lack of messy seed pods.

  • 50 feet in height and 40 feet in width at maturity, with a rounded shape
  • Full sun
  • Fast growing
  • Hardy to Zone 3
  • Plant at least 20 feet from the house and property lines and to the south or west for afternoon and early-evening shade



Techny White Cedar (also know as Easter Arborvitae or American Arborvitae) – When you need to screen an unattractive view or define a border, Techny Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Techny’) is the tree to choose. Techny is a dense, multi-stemmed evergreen with a distinctive pyramid form. The fine-textured, dark green, flat sprays of foliage retain their color through the winter. Extremely versatile, this evergreen takes pruning very well to make a great hedge; without pruning, it becomes a densely conical low-branching tree.

  • 15 feet in height and 12 feet in width at maturity, with a pyramid shape
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Slow growing
  • Prefers average to moist soil; resistant to windburn
  • Hardy to Zone 2a
  • Good for general  garden use, mass planting, hedges/screening, vertical accent



Apple What a pleasure to pluck an apple from a tree in your own yard. But growing apple trees is not as straightforward as growing other trees. Apple flowers must receive pollen from another variety of apple to produce fruit. Unless you have ornamental crabapple trees or other apple trees in your neighborhood, you’ll need to plant two or more varieties. Apples are insect pollinated, with bees and flies transferring pollen from flowers on one tree to those on another. Two trees of the same variety cannot provide pollen to each other.

Good choices to plant are ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ a mid-season apple, and ‘Haralson,’ a late-maturing apple, on semi-dwarf rootstock. This rootstock produces a smaller tree, makes pruning, pest control, thinning and harvesting easier. These smaller trees also bear fruit in 3 to 4 year instead of 8 to 10, and are proportionally narrowed so two trees will fit into a smaller space.

  • Semi-dwarf rootstock produces a tree about 14-18 feet in height and 12-15 feet in width
  • Plant trees no more than 100 feet apart for good pollination; can be planted closer
  • Both ‘Sweet Sixteen’ and ‘Haralson’ trees are hardy to Zone 3b
  • ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is a medium-sized, red-striped apple with a crisp, juicy texture and yellow flesh. It is one of the best apples for fresh-off-the-tree eating; tree bears fruit mid-September. Resistant to apple scab and fire blight.

Tree Care (Courtesy Arbor Day Foundation)

When to Prune

This depends to a large extent on why you prune. Light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done anytime. Otherwise, here are some guidelines, but recognizing that individual species may differ is important to remember.

Winter Pruning

Pruning during dormancy is the most common practice. It results in a vigorous burst of new growth in the spring and should be used if that is the desired effect. It is usually best to wait until the coldest part of winter has passed. Some species, such as maple, walnuts and birches, may “bleed” – when the sap begins to flow. This is not harmful and will cease when the tree leafs out.

Summer Pruning

To direct the growth by slowing the branches you don’t want; or to slow “dwarf” the development of a tree or branch, pruning should be done soon after the seasonal growth is complete. The reason for the slowing effect is that you reduce the total leaf surface, thereby reducing the amount of food manufactured and sent to the roots. Another reason to prune in the summer is for corrective purposes. Defective limbs can be sen more easily, or limbs that hang down too far under the weight of the leaves.

Pruning Flowering Trees to Enhance Flowering

For trees that bloom in spring, prune when their flower fade.

Trees and shrubs that flower in mid- to late summer should be pruned in winter or early spring.

When Not to Prune: Fall

Because decay fungi spread their spores profusely in the fall and healing of the wounds seems to be slower on cuts in the fall, this is a good time to leave your pruning tools in storage.

by Reba Gilland writing from her home near Battle Lake



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