Trees are the foundation of any landscape design and should be selected carefully. Native trees are always a first choice due to the fact that they survive well after all, you will be planting them their native environment. Most smaller yards cannot support canopy sized native trees however there are options for small and mid sized varieties. These trees will still provide some shade yet typically grow under 40′ in cultivation. All preform well in the south so consider a native option. They create an eco friendly landscape and are low maintenance at the same time.
American Fringe Tree – A beautiful small tree which will be covered in lacy, tassel like flowers in late spring to early summer. American Fringe tree can tolerate some shade as it is naturally an understory plant. It may be formed into a tree or grown as a large shrub. Fall color is stunning bright yellow which will shine in your landscape.
American Hornbeam Musclewood – American Hornbeam is an easy to grow tree with no serious insect or disease problems although they do prefer some water. The name Musclewood comes from the twisted look of the trunk and older branches which resemble sinewy muscles. American Hornbeam is ideal for stream and pond edges or in drainage areas.
Photo credit: Tom Potterfield
Dogwood – The south is known for its dogwood trees and they are a wonderful addition to a landscape. Aside from the show stopping blooms, Dogwood brings value in other seasons. The fall leaf color is an attractive deep red and it produces berries which will attract songbirds to your garden. Flowers can be white or pink shades and some have double petals. The photo above is ‘Cherokee Brave’. There are many cultivars on the market but be sure to ask your nursery about disease resistance prior to selecting one.
Eastern Redbud – A versatile small tree which can have purple, green or multi colored foliage depending upon the variety. Native Eastern Redbud is one of the first trees to bloom in the spring and the colorful lavender flowers are always a welcomed sight. It is also pollinator friendly and ideal for the first emerging bees. Eastern Redbud ha a classically rounded canopy and prefers some relief from the afternoon sun.
Mountain Gordlinia ‘Sweet Tea’ – A relatively new hybrid with native parents, Mountain Gordlinia has the traits of both Franklinia alatamaha and those of Gordonia lasianthus, Loblolly Bay. The large white flowers have a bright yellow center and a slightly cupped shape. It is also fragrant! In fall the foliage is rich orange and in mild winters, Mountain Gordlinia is semi-evergreen.
Serviceberry – Pretty sprays of delicate white glowers appear in spring which will eventually produce edible berries. The fruit taste somewhat like blueberries and you may harvest them yourself or leave them for the birds. Some cultivars have brilliant yellow to red fall colors. Serviceberry can be grown in tree or shrub form.
Photo credit: Dan Mullen
Sourwood – A much underused mid size native tree for southern landscapes, Sourwood is appealing all year long. In late spring the long flower tassels are unique and showy, then in summer the glossy. deep green foliage shines. In fall Sourwood is bright red then in winter the heavily grooved, brown bard stands out. Sourwood is low maintenance and prefers afternoon shade.
Photo credit: Geneva Wirth
Also see our article on Small to Mid Size Native Trees for Fall Color.