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Dallas Morning News - July 10, 2019

Little Trees

There are a lot of good reasons to plant smaller trees among big trees. Little trees provide different scale and texture, provide understory that’s part of the garden’s strata and many provide flowers and varying fall color. Here are the little trees that will give you the most interest and best chances of success in north Texas.


Redbuds have dark bark, graceful structure, nice heart-shaped leaves, purple or white spring flowers (that are edible) and yellow fall color that varies depending on the weather. These will do well in sun or shade.


Mexican plum
Mexican plum offers a pleasantly unusual orange fall color


Mexican plums are graceful for sunny or shady residential gardens, have interesting exfoliating bark, sweet smelling white spring flowers and a pleasantly unusual orange fall color.


Mexican buckeye is a rather well-kept secret. This small deciduous tree has terrific interest in the spring with its delicate and colorful new growth followed by showy purple flowers. The foliage is neat and clean all summer providing a beautiful yellow show in the fall. Plant the little buckeyes in sun or shade, even in containers.


Crimson queen Japanese maple (new growth)

Mexican buckeye (fall color)


There are a great many terrific Japanese maples. Some get pretty large, some are dwarf, some are red in summer and some are green. They all have dependable fall color and they work well in beds or in pots. My oldest plant is a split-leaf Crimson Queen that we have had in various size pots for about 40 years. All enjoy some shade, especially in the afternoon, but the most sun tolerant is the species plant, Acer palmatum.


Palms make surprisingly good understory trees. Of course, they will grow in the sun but are equally at home in the shade of larger trees. My favorite choice in this group is needle palm because it is so dark green and freeze tolerant.


The dramatic spring blooming dogwoods prefer the sandy, acid soil of east Texas but will perform well in the black soils if planted in prepared beds. Use the basic organic amendments. The other native dogwood, called roughleaf dogwood grows well in any soil, has white flower clusters in early summer and purple fall color.


Rusty Blackhaw

Eve's Necklace


Rusty blackhaw viburnum is harder to find but worth the effort. This native small tree has white flowers in spring, shiny foliage, edible berries and bright red fall color.


Several hollies do well as understory trees. The best of the options include East Palatka, Savannah, and the native yaupon holly.


Mexican buckeye spring foliage


Two unique trees that grow a little larger and like more sunlight include Canadian red chokecherry, Persian ironwood and paperbark maple. All three have interesting foliage and texture as well as surprising color at unusual times.


And finally, the best little tree choices for those areas in full sun include desert willow, Eve's necklace, crapemyrtle and mesquite.




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