Overlooked Trees for Landscape Planting

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 10, 2010

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Black gum tends to grow into irregular shapes, so it is important to select a tree with a good straight leader. If the leader is lost, select a quick substitute and stake it in an upright position (if necessary) to avoid total deformation.

Black gum tolerates wet soils but not prolonged flooding. It should not be planted where the soils are chalky, but it is somewhat drought-tolerant. Planting in full sun produces the best summer and fall leaf color, but black gum also tolerates partial shade.

Black gum is not related to American sweetgum and does not form the same fruit that many people consider a nuisance. The female form of black gum produces a small, bluish-black fruit that birds and some mammals enjoy. A nursery located in Holt, Missouri, has produced a cultivar known as 'Miss Scarlet' that is known for its brilliant red fall color and ornamental blue fruit.

The American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), also known as musclewood, ironwood or blue beech, has thin, smooth, bluish-gray bark that is really attractive. It is also fluted and has a sinewy appearance, hence the name musclewood.

American hornbeam usually grows no larger than 30 feet in height and spread. In Missouri's forests, American hornbeam grows as a multi-stem shrub or twisted single stem tree, but nursery-grown stock is typically single stem and uniform in appearance.

If the tree is healthy, the leaves are dark green during the summer and may change from yellow to purple in the fall. The tree grows less than one foot per year but will do better in good sites with uniform moisture and fertility.

It's hard to list landscaping trees without including an oak. Missouri's forests harbor more than 20 different oak species. Each has its own wonderful, unique characteristics. One of my favorites is Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa).

Oaks are probably too big for most city yards because they'll shade not only your yard, but several of your neighbors' yards, as well. You may have to eventually disfigure or destroy the tree to maintain peace in the neighborhood.

Although it will take many years, bur oak will attain heights of 80 feet or more with an equal or greater spread. It grows one foot or less per year. The young twigs may form corky ridges, giving the tree a coarse, but attractive appearance. Bur oak has the largest acorns of any oak species. Most are at least one inch in diameter.

Most literature describes bur oak as difficult to transplant, but it moves well in containers. Bur oak can be found in a wide range of sites throughout Missouri, from bottomlands in the south to the drier prairies of the central and northern regions, so it is quite adaptable to many moisture levels and soil types.triangle image

Landscaping Soul Searching

Some of our trees can only grow in certain climates or soil types. Before you plant a tree, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want from this tree? (fall color, flowers, shade, fast growth, etc.)
  • How much maintenance am I willing to provide? (No tree is maintenance free.)
  • Where am I going to plant this tree and what kind of site do I have? For example, is the site wet, dry, sunny or shady? Is the soil loose or is it heavy clay?
  • How much room do I have, and how big is this tree going to get?
  • Are there any underground or overhead utilities that could interfere with the tree or that the tree will threaten?

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