Inula Royleana
Midwest Gardening
Small Trees over 30 Feet

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The Selection of Hardy Ornamental Trees for Midwest and Northern Climates Continues to Grow

Trees over 25 or 30 feet are still considered small relative to shade trees that reach 60 to 100 feet or more.  These small to medium size trees are ideal for small properties, narrow spaces, or planted closer to a structure or home than you would plant a large shade tree.  Many of these trees  have ornamental qualities, graceful form, or stunning fall color. 

Small and ornamental trees benefit from spring fertilization.  Use a slow release granular fertilizer with equal parts NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium).  Sprinkle around the root zone according to directions in spring.

 
Aesculus neglecta  Dwarf Yellow Buckeye ‘Erythroblastos’ Aesculus neglecta Dwarf Yellow Buckeye by Jim Brody
  • Zones: 5-8
  • Sun:  Full sun to part shade
  • Height:  30’
  • Spread:  25’
  • Shape:  Rounded or pyramidal crown
  • Growth Rate:  Slow to moderate
  • Soil Preference:  Prefers moist well drained, deeply cultivated soil.  Somewhat adaptable. Prefers slightly acidic soil.
  • Moisture:  Average to high moisture requirements
  • Foliage:  Leaves open pink, turn cream green, then medium green, 5 leaflet, coarse texture.  Turns yellow or orange in Fall
  • Blooms:  4” erect, full clusters yellow flowers in spring flushing with red by mid summer
  • Fruit:  Smooth capsules in fall.

The Dwarf Buckeye is beautiful in spring when the Dwarf Yellow Buckeye Erythroblastos flower budscreamy pink leaves tinged with orange begin to open.  When grown in part shade, the lovely leaf color may last a bit longer.  The flowers are pale yellow but not nearly as showy as any of the Buckeyes or Horse Chestnuts.  However the fall color is lovely, much like it’s parent the Yellow Buckeye.  The Dwarf Buckeye  reaches mature size in ten to twenty years, taking several years to develop flower and fruit.  ‘Erythroblastos’ is also referred to as the Sunrise Horse Chestnut or Dwarf Yellow Buckeye or Dwarf Horse Chestnut.  There are several new dwarf cultivars of dwarf Buckeyes and Horse Chestnuts, but they are not easy to find.

 

Betula nigra River Birch/Red BirchBetula nigra 'River Birch'

  • Zones: 4-9
  • Sun:  Full sun to part sun
  • Height:  40-70’
  • Spread:  40-60’
  • Shape:  Oval to pyramid crown, frequently multi-trunked
  • Growth Rate:  Fast
  • Soil Preference:  Prefers moist acidic soil with good drainage.  Adapts well to drier soils and will adapt to clay soil and wet soil.
  • Moisture:  Average to high moisture requirements and will tolerate standing water for short periods.
  • Foliage:  Triangular green leaves with toothed edges.  Golden yellow in autumn.
  • Blooms:  Insignificant
  • Fruit:   Long catkins spring and fall
  • Other:  Once established will tolerate heat and drought fairly well.  Very resistant to the Bronze Birch Borer, but not as resistant to Hardy River Birch Small Treethe Birch Leafminer.

The bark of the River Birch is salmon colored and peels.  It is lighter colored than native river birch.  This fast growing tree is frequently planted for it’s ornamental peeling bark and very good disease resistance.  An excellent choice for landscaping.  The River Birch will do especially well at the edge of a pond, stream, or in a low lying area, but will also adapt fairly well to other planting sites.  Once established it will tolerate heat and drought fairly well.  It the soil is alkaline the leaves may yellow due to chlorosis.  Treat the soil with iron tablets if this develops. 

Betula nigra ‘Heritage’ River BirchBetula nigra 'Heritage'

  • Zones: 4-9
  • Sun:  Full sun to part or dappled shade
  • Height:  35-40’
  • Spread:  30-35’
  • Shape:  Oval to rounded crown
  • Growth Rate:  Fast
  • Soil Preference:  Prefers moist acidic soil with good drainage.  Adapts well to drier soils and will adapt to clay soil.
  • Moisture:  Average to high moisture requirements and will tolerate standing water for short periods.
  • Foliage:  Ovoid to triangular green leaves with toothed edges.  Golden yellow in autumn.
  • Blooms:  Insignificant
  • Fruit:   Long catkins spring and fall
  • Other:  Once established will tolerate heat and drought fairly well. 

‘Heritage’ birch is a fast growing, easy to grow tree.  It is a bit on the large side for an ornamental tree, but nowhere near the size of a large shade tree such as Maple.  When growing along moist river banks, River Birch can reach 40-70 feet high and 40-60 feet wide, however in home landscapes they generally remain well under 50 feet.  And the ornamental qualities of the ‘Heritage’ Birch create a lovely specimen.  The foliage is light and airy with an open crown and supple drooping branches.  The leaves and branches flutter in the breeze.  Catkins formed in spring and fall add to the charm and character of the River Birch throughout the year, however some are not partial to the “mess” created by dropped catkins and a generous amount of pollen “dust” if it litters sidewalks and driveways.  Planted in an appropriate location, this should not be a problem.  River Birch produce both male and female flowers.  The male flowers are long catkins and are produced in autumn, generally remaining on the tree through winter.  In spring the male catkins produce a lot of pollen.  Female catkins are produced in spring, are pollinated, and form fruit.  The fruit is an inch long “cone” filled with seed.    Cinnamon colored bark peels away from the trunk in papery sheets, revealing creamy white inner bark.  The leaves turn golden yellow in fall.  ‘Heritage’ is often a multi stemmed tree, but is also cultivated as a single trunk.  Birch trees prefer cold northern climates, perform best in moist soil, and do not tolerate shade.  Many birch tend to sucker, and controlling them can be difficult.  River Birch attract a multitude of birds that feed on the seeds or find nesting cover in the branches.  ‘Heritage’ has excellent disease and pest resistance, including excellent resistance to the birch borer and leaf spot.  Do not prune birch until the growing season is over, well into fall.  Open pruning wounds invite the birch borer.

Betula pendula European White Birch/Silver BirchBetula pendula (European White Birch) by Josh Jackson

  • Zones: 3,4,5,6
  • Sun:  Full sun to part sun
  • Height:  40-50’
  • Spread:  10-30’
  • Shape:  Oval crown, often multi trunked
  • Growth Rate:  Fast
  • Soil Preference:  Requires moist, acid soil
  • Moisture:  High moisture requirements and will tolerate standing water for short periods.
  • Foliage:  Small ovoid green leaves with toothed edges.  Golden yellow in autumn.
  • Blooms:  Insignificant
  • Fruit:   Long catkins spring and fall
  • Other:  Highly susceptible to leaf miner and bronze birch borer.

European White Birch, or Silver Birch, is not recommended for home landscapes.  They are highly susceptible to insects, requires consistently moist soil just beneath the surface, and are short lived.  Certain areas in the northern zones have had some success in just the right conditions.  In warmer regions it should not be exposed to hot afternoon sun.  If you have just the right spot, it is a very lovely tree.  The trunk is white with black patches developing as the tree matures.  The bark does not peel.  The crown has a graceful form with tips that turn downward.

Betula utilis jacquemontii White Barked Himalayan BirchBetula utilis jacquemonti

  • Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
  • Sun:  Full sun to light shade
  • Height:  25-60’
  • Spread:  15-20’
  • Shape:  Oval to pyramid form with open branching.
  • Growth Rate:  Fast
  • Soil Preference:  Prefers a rich, moist, acidic to neutral soil with good drainage.
  • Moisture:  Average to high moisture requirements.
  • Foliage:  Dark green oval leaves with toothed edges.  Golden yellow in autumn.
  • Blooms:  Insignificant
  • Fruit:   Long catkins spring and fall
  • Other:  Will tolerate slightly alkaline soil but may develop chlorosis.  Treat with iron tablets.  Susceptible to the bronze birch borer.  Foliage may be afflicted with aphids.

The Himalayan Birch is most commonly grown in the eastern United States.  Typically in the home landscape it will reach a height of about 40 feet, but can grow up to 60 feet if conditions are ideal.  It is quite suitable for a small property.  The roots are shallow and should be covered the width of the crown with a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots.  Jacquemontii birch has the whitest bark of the birch trees, with a dark foliage that contrasts beautifully.  The pure white trunks are particularly striking when the tree is bare. When grown in alkaline soil, watch for yellowing leaves which is a sign of chlorosis.  The soil can be treated with iron tablets to correct the problem.

Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’ Ruby Red Horse ChestnutAesculus x carnea Briotii

  • Zones: 5-8
  • Sun:  Full sun to part shade
  • Height:  25-35’
  • Spread:  25-35’
  • Shape:  Oval to rounded crown
  • Growth Rate:  Moderate
  • Soil Preference:  Prefers moist, fertile, well drained soil, will tolerate average soil.
  • Moisture:  Average moisture requirements
  • Foliage:  Dark green, 5 leaflet, coarse texture.  Turns brown in October
  • Blooms:  8-10” erect, full clusters of deep red flowers in May
  • Fruit:   1 1/2” round, prickly, poisonous

Ruby Red Horsechestnut is a bit smaller than Red Horse Chestnut.  The flower clusters are a deep red and larger than the species.  It is less susceptible to fungal disease. Dry conditions may cause leaf scorch and a general decline in the tree’s health, so make sure it receives adequate moisture in dry periods.  ‘Briotii” develops a tap root so it very difficult to move once established.   The wood tends to be soft and weak, sometimes breaking limbs under the weight of heavy snow.  Prune crossed or wayward interior branches to encourage a strong structure.  Horse Chestnut bleeds extensively and should be pruned midsummer after new growth has matured and bloom period is done.  A very popular cultivar of Aesculus.

Showy Mountain Ash: Full sun Hardy in zones 2-7.  Hardy Mountain AshThe 'Sorbus decora' grows to 20 feet, and is hardy to zone 2. It's form is slightly rounded to ovoid with dark green leaves.  Be aware that some, specifically the Korean Mountain Ash (Sorbus alnifolia) can reach 50 feet tall.  It has an oval to rounded form and is hardy in zones 5-7.  European Mountain Ash, ‘Sorbus aucuparia’ is hardy in zones 4 to 7, and reaches about 20-40 feet tall, so also a little on the larger side.   All Mountain Ash produce white spring flowers that develop to  large showy clusters of bright red-orange fruits that hold on through winter until the birds finish them off.  Leaves are compound, multiple fine leaves on each leaf stem., The leaves are one of the first to open up in spring.   Mountain ash is resistant to pests, with the exception of borers.  The bark and young stems of Mountain Ash trees are susceptible to rabbit and rodent damage in winter.  Wrap the stems/trunk with a collar or hardware cloth available at garden centers to protect them.  Beautiful tree, but some will produce sucker shoots.

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