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How to be Successful with Your Ornamental Tree Landscaping Strategy

Updated on June 24, 2014

Introduction to Ornamental Trees

When most of us think of ornamental trees, we tend to think of brightly blooming, colorful trees that are normally in the dwarf, small and mid-size range.

In reality, about any tree can be considered an ornamental, based on the fact that its use is ornamental. The definition of an ornamental tree comes from the reason why you're actually including it in your yard design.

But when it comes down to it, there's a certain look a tree has, and when you see it you know it. To me, and to most people, that tree is ornamental no matter what anybody else may think of it. Of course, like human love, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so I guess you could say the same concerning ornamental trees.

Usually what makes an ornamental an ornamental, is some type of unique characteristic that makes it different from looking at or considering what we would consider a 'normal' tree.

Anyway, we're going to look at a variety of different elementss of ornamental trees in this article, and include several videos showing you how to do some pruning for best effects, and a bunch of photos for no other reason than the eye candy we associate with these beautiful trees.

It could also inspire you to use one of these trees in your own yard or garden design.

Black Tupelo Tree

Your Ornamental Tree Landscaping Plan

So what are some of the considerations we need to think of when making a decision on a strategy for populating our yard with ornamental trees?

Some of the factors include whether the tree likes shade or sun, its foliage, height, width, shape, color of blossoms, wood coloring, bark when it blooms, and the length of the blooming period.

Now the reason you think of things like this is to devise a plan for where to place the tree for its best effect in the yard. And with some trees you'll have them next to other plants, gardens or trees, or possibly landscaping additions which will enhance the look by including them together as a group. So everything needs to be considered together in order to make it work.

Have you ever seen those who have made a good, but failed effort? The color can be wrong, the width or height could block out things expected to be seen, and foliage and color may not match.

It's best to put together a little diagram at minimum, and place objects on the diagram to represent your trees. You might even color in some blossoms just by adding a line of color next to it in order to visualize what it would look like; assuming it's blossoming at the time and in the color you expected.

I say that last part because people can sometimes forget the blossom colors and put the wrong tree in the wrong place expecting different coloring than they get. Even better, you could put photos from a catalog or printed out from the Internet of the exact tree you're buying; when it's not in bloom and when it is. That will give you a real good idea on what it would look like when they mature.

You get the idea. The point is to create a strategy, put it down on paper, and make sure the trees you're considering planting are the exact ones you want.

Ornamental Plum Tree Pruning

Design Factors

One thing people inexperienced tend to do with ornamental trees is to put far too many into a small place, which when they mature, look far too crowded.

Another factor to keep in mind is if you already have some larger trees on the property. Those things must be taken into consideration in your plan.

Don't be discouraged if you have a small yard though. There are trees types that will work with just about any size yard, and it's a matter of doing your research and devising a plan.

Again, all the attributes I mentioned in the second paragraph of the article above must be taken into account in your plans.

Two of the more devastating mistakes are the height and width of a tree. There's nothing worse than getting everything done and looking with anticipation to the end results, and find your trees are covering an important part of your yard.

In reference to height, I'm more thinking in terms of smaller trees, for unless you completely read the specifications of a tree wrong, it's the smaller ones that can cause you problems if you miscalculate heights and widths.

Don't try to estimate. Lay out your dimensions in your yard before planting, and use a tape measure to get exact measurements. You can put stakes in the ground where the tree would grow out to to see if they would work with other plans with the nearby trees, foliage or flowers.

If you have a really small yard, it may work to only have one tree there. Take into account your entire landscape goal when making this decision. Too many trees in a small yard can overwhelm everything else because of their unique characteristics, and can take too much away from the rest of the look you were looking for.

Azadirachta Indica Neem Tree

Is it a Tree or a Shrub?

As many surprised home landscapers have found out, what they thought was a shrub, eventually grows to tree size, no matter what it's labeled.

Probably the lilac tree is the most famous or infamous - depending how you look at it - for growing into a tree. This can happen even in some extremely cold climates, as I've experienced it growing up. But this is much more of an experience in warmer climates.

Other familiar shrubs to ornamental tree types are the hydrangea and azalea. Keep this in mind if you want them and ornamental trees. They can very quickly change the way you thought your landscaping would appear.

Also don't forget dwarf trees which may look more like a shrub.

Ornamental Fruit Trees

An interesting thing about ornamental fruit trees is some of them don't bear fruit. So if you really want fruit on your fruit tree, check that out, as there's nothing more disappointing than waiting for an ornamental fruit tree to bear fruit and find out it's never going to.

Also check out the pollinating features of a particular tree. Some are self-pollinating and some aren't.

Before you plant an ornamental fruit tree, remember the times you looked at fruit trees other people have owned. Remember the messy fruit laying on the ground? That will be part of your experience as well.

Among the most popular ornamental fruit trees are cherry, orange, plum and pear.

Persimmons Ornamental Tree Video

What Type of Ornamental Tree Should I Choose?

As far as varieties, color and size, etc., there's no answer to that question because of each person's personal preferences, the size and shape of their yard, and existing landscaping, trees and gardens.

But usually the best trees to choose, with these differing elements in mind, are those that include several distinct characteristics that can heighten their effect for you.

One example from my experience is the crepe myrtle. This is one of my favorite trees ever, and I used to have them lined up on my driveway when I owned land in Texas.

Not only did they give those beautiful blooms, they also had a unique shape. But my favorite for the type of trees I had was the stunningly gorgeous wood color and texture.

In spite of the color of the blooms, which as you know, are amazing, I couldn't wait till the wintertime when the foliage was gone and that extraordinary wood could be seen.

So when considering the type of ornamental tree or trees you choose, think in terms of the beauty of their blooms, how the branches form, if there are berries, leaves, changing color patterns at different times of the year, resistance to diseases and how hardy they are in the winter.

It's up to each individual person or couple of course, but usually there is much better satisfaction and success with a tree with multiple strengths and features.

This doesn't mean there's no place for other trees with one unique characteristic, just that it would need to be used in a very specific situation that it's strength would be most beneficial.

Japanese Laceleaf Maple

Tree Maintenance

Here's one a lot of excited homeowners forget about until they discover they bit off more than they could or wanted to chew. Read carefully on what each type of tree type will need to be maintained at a quality and successful level.

Think of those shaggy looking trees you've seen because people didn't realize the work needed to get the necessary and expected benefits out of them.

Now if you're a hard worker and working in the outdoors is part of the reason you want the trees, then go for it, it's not as important.

But if you want a relatively low maintenance ornamental tree, by all means check out the instructions and maintenance tips before buying and planting.

You know how these things can turn into nightmares if you suddenly have hours and hours of work to do on something you thought you could for the most part sit back and enjoy.

No tree can be maintenance free, but they can be much lower maintenance than others that demand high upkeep. Remember with any young tree you'll need to winterize them for their best chance at survival. That's a given. Just know what's required before jumping in.

Fig Tree Care & Pruning

Importance of when Ornamental Trees Bloom

All of us love those times when everything comes into bloom in the spring, but a important part of that experience is whether you want extended seasons of blooming with your trees, or if you want to have that great early season blooming and than leave it at that.

If you want to enjoy an extended blooming season, then trees with different blooming seasons must be considered. You can have those which bloom the earliest, and then others that can bloom all the way to summer, like lilac shrubs, among others.

This gets a little tricky because if this is one of your key motivations, you do need to know how your yard and landscaping will look from month to month if one tree is blooming at the time another is stopping blooming.

Silver Berry or Wolf Willow

Why and When Foliage is Important

When you're using your ornamental trees or shrubs to give a certain look to your landscaping when blooming, especially near to the house, you must think of the type of foliage the tree has.

The reason why is when they're used, for example, to draw attention to the eye on the entry front door by planting them on either side of the entryway, once the blooming season is over, that will be how it looks the rest of the year.

So in those cases, foliage can be as important as the blossoms as far as the way your house landscaping looks for the entire year. You want the foliage to be of the type that brings a quality to your entry way when the blossom season is over.

This is the same when using ornamentals to hide a foundation. For the same reasons mentioned above, you must consider the foliage to be as important as the blooms.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Landscape Uses of Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

There are other things of value in using certain ornamental shrubs or trees besides flowers and foliage. Here's a few of those that can be used to our advantage, and add value to our landscaping scheme.

Erosion Management

If you've ever had erosion problems, you know how much you want to solve it. Ornamentals can be used to strategically help combat erosion, effectively controlling it. A number of flowering shrubs and trees are exceptionally good at this.

Altering the Landscape

Have you ever seen someone that has everything in a straight line, whether vertically or horizontally in their landscaping? That's very easy to do when trying to be so perfect with our goals.

One thing that can be done to help it not look so rigid is to put in some flowering smaller trees or shrubs at strategic points to alter the lines if they're too obvious.

Ornamental Borders

Separation between property borders is one of the obvious uses of ornamental trees, and that's a good strategy to employ. But another good use is in creating bounds within our yards also.

Most of us have uses and bounds within our yards, even if we don't always think of it that way. In other words, we may do certain things in certain areas without thinking about it.

To more clearly define these various boundaries, we could place ornamental trees and/or plants in certain spots to accentuate and delineate those areas.

One major area this can be done in is the driveway itself, which challenges a lot of homeowners. Do this right, and the driveway isn't just a place to come and go, but can be transformed into an extraordinary piece of your landscaping art.

Weeping Higan Cherry Tree

Enjoy Your Ornamental Trees

After reading this, you might get overwhelmed, but it's really not that difficult. It's simply a matter of understanding the characteristics of the ornamental tree and applying your landscaping strategy by making decisions based on your wants and needs and how a specific ornamental tree will meet them.

That's what all the above is really saying. In the end, you'll be glad you took a little extra time to think things out and create a plan.

After all, when all is said and done, we're doing it because we want to enjoy these exciting trees and have our yards look like a lived in piece of art. Now that's worth a little extra work at the beginning or choosing what to do with your ornamental trees.


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