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Knock Out Small Trees.

by: Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)
 “I think that I shall never see 
a poem lovely as a tree. 
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 
A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 
A tree that may in Summer wear a nest of robins in her hair; 
Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 
Poems are made by fools like me, 
but only God can make a tree.”

Look for great blooms, colorful foliage, interesting bark and a sculptural silhouette .








OK, I know it is the end of February and as I write this it is snowing again. The scene out my window is a heavy blanket of snow camouflaging much of the details of the landscape. What is apparent though is the overall structure or “bones” of the property; i.e. major trees and shrubs, architectural elements and the delineation of outdoor spaces or rooms. With an imagination and portfolio of photos taken last Season, one can start contemplating where a small tree might be added as soon as Mother Nature cooperates.

“In a world where garden space is shrinking, it easy to think there is no room for trees. But landscapes without trees are like rooms without ceilings. Using flowers, foliage and texture as guidelines create interesting garden for you and generations to come.” Richie Steffen_Curator/Elizabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden_Seattle


Imperial Alder


Even if you have very little space you can always find room for adding a great container to hold a small tree. You can place the container as a focal spot in a garden border or add it to a grouping on your deck or terrace. Do choose a large, durable container with drainage. Use a quality soil mix and monitor watering requirements. I have both deciduous and evergreen plants in containers throughout my gardens and they add interest in the winter months. The picture below features a Japanese Maple which are a perfect choice for containers as most are slow growing. Visit The Essence of the Tree to see a great selection.

Tree in pot Boxwood





Before setting out to your local garden center or nursery to pick out that ‘perfect ‘ tree do your homework. Here are some helpful suggestions and resources to aid in your selection.

1 .Evaluate the size of your property and whether your selection is appropriate. ( most of us do not have the space for a European Beech or English Oak! ).
2 .Avoid planting too close to the house as trees can be a hazard during storms and can also impact the longevity of your siding and roof.
3. Avoid trees that have vigorous fibrous root systems and heavy canopies,as when mature, other plants will not compete and thrive under them.
4. Consider the purpose of the tree; i.e. for filtered shade on a hot day, ornamental features, winter interest, privacy screening, etc.
5. Know the cultural requirements for your tree as to soil type, hardiness for our zone, disease and pest resistance, light requirements and siting ( are you on the ocean? or have a lot of wind? ).
6. What size tree to start with? Can you handle the planting alone or is heavier equipment required? ( trees are priced according to caliper of trunk approximately 18” from top of the root ball. A 2” or more caliper is a fairly heavy tree and to avoid injury to you and damage to the tree you should consider professional help for installation. )
7. Do ask for advice at your nursery. These people are valuable allies in helping with your selection.



Here are some of my favorite small ornamental deciduous trees that are “Happy Campers” on Cape Cod. This list is by no means all inclusive but all have interesting foliage, flowers, bark and branching habit and are well-suited to our smaller properties.

Cornus kousa, Chinese dogwood

Bay Lane KOusa




Stewartia pseudocamelia ( sorry no common name )

Fink_Stewartia Stewartia
Styrax japonica, Japanese Snowbell
Acer rubrum, Swamp maple ( our native swamp maple )
Acer griseum, Paperbark maple( bark detail above )
Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’, Coral Bark Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ Japanese maple Katsura
Malus Adirondack, Adirondack Crabapple( disease resistant to Apple Cedar Rust_see my blog_A Stately Native)



Magnolia grandiflora ‘Butterfly’

Butterfly Magnolia





A word about Watering:
Until new roots grow into the soil of the planting site, your tree will be dependent on the water that is held in the original root ball area. Especially if you are planting in late spring or summer it is critical that this root ball area does not dry out. In areas with clay soils, the surrounding soil will pull moisture out of the porous soil mix the tree is potted in, so your tree may dry out much more quickly than you expect. Check and, if needed, water your new tree right at the root ball every few days for the first several weeks during the growing season. The soil around the rootball should remain moist though not saturated. Within several months, when sufficient numbers of roots have grown into the loosened, mulched soil surrounding the rootball, you can direct your irrigation to that area. If you plant in fall or winter, you will probably need to water your new tree every two to four weeks during its first summer, more often in especially hot periods. If your tree is planted in spring or later, you may need to water as often as once a week throughout the first summer. When irrigating, apply enough water to thoroughly wet the root zone to a depth of at least a foot, but don’t water so often that the soil stays waterlogged.
A newly planted tree may take 1-2 years to become established. Larger container stock trees may take longer to become established than smaller stock. vavaville tree
Of all the joys of gardening nothing beats the excitement of picking out and planting a new tree. Aside from your own personal satisfaction you will have the bonus of knowing you are celebrating the richness of our natural world. It is truly a gift that keeps giving for your own enjoyment and a legacy for the future.

Venus Dogwood

Pictured above the beautiful large flower of ‘Venus’ Dogwood. This spectacular, fast growing hybrid Dogwood is distinguished by exceptionally large, white flowers – as large as your hand! Summer flowers yield attractive strawberry-like fall fruit. Glossy green leaves will show wonderful fall color. This vigorous selection from Rutgers University has outstanding winter hardiness, good tolerance of drought conditions and is highly resistant to disease. Deciduous. Available online at Monrovia or White Flower Farm. Request this specimen from your local nurseryman.


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