For a lover of trees, picking the ten top species is difficult, for every tree has its beauty and magic. But when a gardener is looking to create a four-season landscape of trees for year-round interest, those trees that delight in more than one season are the place to begin.
Great Trees for Year-Round Interest
Here are 10 all-season trees to consider adding to your backyard.
- Sargent Cherry - Cherry trees are not always thought of as interesting year round, but Sargent cherry (Prunus sargentii) froths over with pink spring flowers that turn into dark cherries in summer. The foliage changes from green to scarlet in fall, and in winter the gorgeous bark is the star, the color of highly polished mahogany.
- Lilac - The Chinese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata subsp. pekinensis) bears flowers that smell like your ordinary spring lilacs and have the same shape. The long-lasting flowers are creamy white and lovely against the dark leaves. Brown seed capsules persist on the tree through winter.
- Magnolia - Pick a native species like southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), with its glossy dark leaves and huge ivory blossoms in spring. You'll likely enjoy blossoms all summer long, and the attractive foliage year round. This is a big tree and it's hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9.
- Japanese Maple - If you're only going to have one Japanese maple in your garden, consider coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'), with its palm-shaped foliage and distinctive brilliant pink or red bark. This makes for winter interest, after the leaves turn fiery in fall.
- Smoke Tree - The smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) is a stand-out choice for a backyard tree, given the exotic color and texture of its tiny blossoms. They open pinkish grey in spring and create a smoky allure all summer long. In autumn, the leaves change from medium blue-green to yellow-red-purple.
- Serviceberry - Small trees or shrubs, serviceberries (Amelanchier lamarckii) delight with their clusters of fragrant white flowers in spring, followed by dark green leaves. The blueberry-like fruits mature slowly to dark reddish-purple. In autumn, the leaves turn shades of yellow, orange and red before dropping to expose the smooth bark that shines in winter light.
- Chaste Tree - Trees with fall color top the list for autumn ornamentation, but why not make room for the little chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus var. latifolia), with its aromatic leaves. It's a native tree that requires minimal care but offers bright blue flowers in summer through frost.
- Lacebark Pine - Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) is an evergreen with exfoliating bark. All year long you'll appreciate its beautiful needles but, when the tree matures, the bark peels back to reveal gleaming white portions beneath.
- River Birch - The easy-to-grow river birch (Betula nigra) produces lovely foliage in spring and summer and the leaves turn bright yellow in autumn. But many think it's most beautiful in winter. Its gorgeous bark exfoliates in a spectacular range of brown, salmon, peach, orange and lavender hues.
- Hawthorn - The native green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) is a medium sized tree that has it all - from fragrant white spring flowers to lovely lobed leaves that turn purple in fall. The fruits are bright red and hang on the tree through the winter. The exfoliating bark is exceptionally lovely.
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Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.
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