trees for backyard

ianna(Z5b)April 17, 2007

Dear Everyone,

I'm starting to design the backbone of my backyard and so as things go, trees will serve as the anchors. This yard is small, no wider than 30 ft and not deep - possibly under 25'. So I had spoken to a landscaper and I was rather surprised that this fellow recommended an ash. I would like a tree to shield us from our neighbors but this tree would be gigantic. Anyway, this landscaper is not a horticulturalist nor a gardener. His expertise is the hardscapes - so this isn't surprising. Still doing my research, I watched Sarah's House (Sarah Richardson)in an episode that showed the landscapers redesign the backyard. I was very surprised to see that they recommended a Katsura to flank the deck that abuts the house. I must be missing something because these trees grow to a height of 80 ft.

Anyway... I'm confused. All I want is a tree that grows to 30 ft. No higher. No cherries, appleblossoms, pears,no helicopter seeds (out linden), no fragrance. Need some suggestions. Thanks.


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I would suggest a birch clump, either weeping or upright. Ideal size would be three stems in the clump. The upright growers will get bigger than the weepers, but will still remain a nice size, around 8'-10' for a weeper and 12'-15' for an upright. Another option would be a weeping crab apple, or a "purple fusion" dwarf apple...maybe the most beautiful foliage you will ever see on a tree in the spring.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 1:43PM
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Why not foliage year-round ? in evergreens/ conifers.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 5:59PM
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The upright growers will get bigger than the weepers, but will still remain a nice size, around 8'-10' for a weeper and 12'-15' for an upright

Not too sure what kind of birches grow where you live, but here in Toronto, the not-so-tall birches that my mother planted 40 years ago, were well over 30 feet tall in about 15 years! I think they stand at about 50 feet now.

I would plant some cedars to start where you need privacy. They will grow much faster than the tree you will plant, and when the tree is large enough, just take down the cedars. Other things to plant would be shrubs - lilacs, forsythia, deutzia, buddleia, dogwood.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2007 at 9:03PM
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Your mother probably planted wild birches, from the woods near her house. The birches I refer to would be designated ornamental, and come from a nursery.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2007 at 8:13AM
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sammyqc(NE Quebec/zn 4/5a)

I'm partial to oak trees, but probably get much too big for what your looking for. I have one in my side yard, that is about ten years old, and has grown I would say at least 25 feet, maybe 30? I have kept the side branches trimmed off, so it doesn't cast too much shade, except where I want it to. Very nice form to it, tall and straight, and more of a filtered shade. I'm trying to keep on top of it, so it doesn't take over. (Also, my neighborhood has a no tree cutting bylaw, so I don't want it to get beyond the point of not being allowed to remove it, if I decide to.) I also have a red oak in the front yard, and it must be 80 years old. It is a gorgeous tree, and I do have an arborist come in every few years to do some pruning, but again, it's probably 60 feet tall. One reason I do like them, is fast, fast growth rate.
As someone else mentioned though, why not consider evergreens, year round privacy and some are fast growers without getting too tall.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 4:29PM
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Hi Ianna,

Something most people don't take into consideration when they are just starting out landscaping is wildlife. I can tell you from my own experience, I wish I had asked more experienced gardeners what kind of property landscape they enjoy. You see with trees they take so long to grow to maturity that by the time they do YOUR tastes will change.

My advice for what it's worth, is find and ask a gardener you admire and would like to be like in 20 years time. I wish I had done that even 10 years ago, with my backyard. Join your local garden club and go on local garden tours this summer.

I suggest a crab apple to feed the birds in winter or a red buckeye or eastern redbud. All are very nice small 25ft trees that have beautiful flowers in spring. As you get older you'll enjoy the backyard birds more and wish you had planted trees to attract them, I know do.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2007 at 6:39PM
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myfairychloe(5b Guelph ON)

Well Ianna...I'm living in your shoes...poor landscaping thanks to the builder..."Infiltration gallery" and all. With the grading, houses behind me are towering over us. 3o ft lot. Lovely. Anyway, I have put in 2 trees so far. Personally not a fan of cedars. Wanted something native to Ontario to attract birds and hide neighbours. After much research, went with the Serviceberry tree. Not too big, not too small. Apparently it is much sought after(Also went with a flowering ornamental pretty but this one is just for looks...not privacy) There are also some very pretty maples available...Crimson King (I think)?

    Bookmark   April 22, 2007 at 8:47PM
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Thank you for all your input and I'm still open to ideas...

I had considered birch - especially the small ones but after researching them, I understand they can compete with other plants for water... I had planned a small dry stream planted by a few such trees but I think I'll forego it with this choice.

I had chosen service berries for the front yard (rising, pleached above a row of boxwood), so didn't want to repeat those trees in the backyard.... However a visit to Loblaws has changed all that. I purchased a corkscrew witchhazel for the front yard (grows ten x ten) and so I'll forego the front yard service berries and will reconsider them for the backyard.

Crabapples becuase of mildew, I'd forego as well. Love the blooms, but I need a tree that can hold it's own without any treatment from me.

I will have varieties of lilacs and already have purchased a tree.

I have a small eastern redbud but it will take years before it will even get to 5 ft.

I have evergreens (emerald cedars which I am using to block the view to the shed. I won't use it to line my walls since that seems a bit too constricting for my small area.

The nursery man suggested a linden tree -- What do you think? I fear it's too tall.

By the way, my fence has been painted ebony which may seem radical but boy, there's instant elegance. Once the plants are placed in, what a difference it will make.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 3:12PM
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Love the idea of ebony on the fence - can you post photos?

I have another story from my mom's house about a linden.

I was three when we moved there and the city was busy planting lots of trees on our street. When I was about 7, Mom called the city about trimming the branches that were starting to rub against the second floor windows. The city worker said that there is no record of a tree having been planted on our property.

Mom said, "But it's a linden tree, and I was there when they planted it."

"No, ma'am" said the clerk. "We planted a linden shrub."

So Mom asked that they come to trim the shrub. When the crew arrived, they said, "but madam, this is a tree!"

This is the linden in my neighbours yard. See the roof of my shed at the bottom? The tree at my childhood home is now about the same size.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 8:12PM
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sammyqc(NE Quebec/zn 4/5a)

Ianna, you probably already know this, but the witchhazel is very slow growing. I've had one in my front yard for the past three years, and it's barely 3x3. And they need winter protection, looks like you're in a similiar zone. As a specimen plant, it's nice, but for privacy, probably won't work for years. Crabapples are so pretty, and fast growing,
and you can always replace them pretty cheaply if need be.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2007 at 9:32PM
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casper1(5/6- -10F Ont)

Take a look at the number of varieties in the "Magnolia" group. They are manageable even when full grown. Rai

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 7:10AM
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Well there goes the linden tree. That's a very funny story homemaker and thanks for sharing it.

Sammy, the hazel is going on the front yard so I got it as an ornamental tree, not for privacy reason. I still won't go with crabapples but I hear you.. They are lovely. But, let me tell cousin's house has 3 large ones and she's been having problems with mildew every year - so I'm rather firm with my choice about it.

I hadn't thought about magnolias -- and should look into it. Thanks for the suggestion casper.

I'm still building up my 'window' shopping list and therefore I'd be grateful for more suggestions.

A thought occurred to me last night - I had just realized that a garden bed I had planned to be as an annual/herb/vegetable bed, can accomodate an espalliered apple tree. It has a south facing fence - perfect for that idea. I'll be searching for an apple tree for this purpose. It will be flat against the fence, branches trained to bear fruits and of course, won't be for privacy reasons.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 11:53AM
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bonniepunch(USDAz4 AgCanz5a)

Some Magnolias can get pretty big too. there are several at the Montreal Botanical Gardens that are probably over 40 feet. But they're really old... Most of them will max out at your height or less, so I'd vote for them (I'm also partial to them - they're my favourite tree). They are on the pricey side though.

There is a little leaf Linden which 'supposedly' doesn't get that tall.

If mildew is the only reason you're resistant to Flowering Crabapples, then there are cultivars with excellent resistance. But then there's Cedar Apple Rust and Apple Scab to worry about too. Pain in the rear trees, but beautiful :-)

Your ebony fence sounds like a great idea. It won't show dirt or stains, and will look super elegant!


    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 12:38PM
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Thanks BP. The only apple tree that I will risk trying out will be the espalliered one which will be small versus having to deal with a 30 ft tree that will require a visit from an arborist. I guess you can say when it comes to trees I'm more keen on the shape of the tree and it's foliage because I don't expect the tree to be in bloom all season long. I've been shaping trees since I started dabbling with bonsai at the age of 14 and so it's more of the shape as a whole that excites me. I currently do topiaries and have made a few indoor topiaries. I may choose the crabapples for a table top bonsai when my backyard is finally complete.

Oh you should try an ebony fence. It's like a shadowy backdrop and when you contrast the greens against it, the fence 'disappears' making your yard larger than it is. Without greencovers, it just looks very chic....

I tried looking at cornus kousa but this can get very large too.... the search continues.

I'll have to relearn to post photos. I did it before and so should be no problem.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 4:22PM
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There are other things besides emerald cedars you might consider, in terms of evergreens.
For instance, some of the larger nurseries here in Quebec are selling Japanese umbrella pines (Sciadopitys verticillata), which are worth a look, if you want something different.
They're supposed to be good to Z5 or possibly even Z4, so probably available in southern Ontario as well....
If you find emerald cedars "a bit too constricting for [your] small area," consider some of the more columnar forms of Taxus (yew) or other conifer species.
There is so much to choose from.....

    Bookmark   April 27, 2007 at 10:56PM
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Yikes, I just mistaken another tree thread for this forum. That's the first time ever I had done that.

Jaro - that's a very interesting suggestion. I'm planning a mix of trees of varying heights and foliage and so a pine may go well in contrast. I'll seriously consider it. Thanks.

I mentioned in the thread I incorrectly posted a response to, that I was considering a Pagoda Dogwood and a Japanese false lilac as well as other small shrubs and trees. I hope to achieve a nice woodsy feel.


    Bookmark   April 30, 2007 at 12:27PM
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I wanted to mention a robin coming to our yard at the end of February. It did not seem to move well. We were wondering how to help, so we put some finely chopped apples, bananas and sunflower seeds. However, we also had a small weeping crabapple, it had very small fruits, which remained on the tree all winter. Robin ate the crabs, we think it also ate some of the food we left out. But it cleaned the tree and it looked very well after that. Birds were never interested in this crabapple, in the end it turned out to be most useful. I really like the idea of having trees that provide food for birds, when there is not much food around.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 12:53AM
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That's a nice thought. However I prefer my trees to be easy to maintain. I don't like to do too much clean ups to handle a shower of flower petals, seeds or fruits. As for feeding the birds - we already have that covered. We are creating a cottage garden combination vegetable bed. There will be sunflowers and joe pye weed. it will also have dill for the butterflies. I am also planning a service berry somewhere which the tree swallows love. My duagher who's five and I are very conscious about making our yard inviting to these creatures although we want to avoid raccoons or squirrels or field mice.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 12:48PM
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glen3a(Winnipeg MB 3A)

Ianna, I too have a small backyard and for me it has worked fairly well using tall/narrow/columnar type of trees, large and small shrubs, and vines.

One side between me and the neighbors has a hedge of brabant cedars (which I trim to keep them compact). I also have dwarf apple trees which I trim annually to keep within bounds. A few Swedish columnar aspen, a large sour cherry bush, a Korean maple, and clematis and kiwi vines. My latest fine is a diablo ninebark which I will just trim the heck out of it, should it outgrow it's space.

Whether or not a tree is too tall depends. If you want it to get huge so that you can trim the bottom branches and sit under it, maybe it's not too big. I have a catalpa tree I started from seed. If it gets tall, It's in an okay spot that I'll just trim the bottom branches and sit underneath.

Good luck, it's fun planning a new area,

    Bookmark   May 2, 2007 at 11:48PM
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Dear Glen,

Thank you. I'm am excited by the process of selecting the trees. I've narrowed my list down to a few choices and I think I will be ready to do some serious planting by end of May. I won't know which 'alpha' tree to get until I get to the garden centre to finalize my choices.

I have just finished digging up and preparing a new garden bed to serve as my daughter's potager garden. Despite having to do the hard labour of preparing this clay bed, I really enjoyed the process and started visualizing what kinds of plants to choose. The trees, being that they are the backbones of this yard, must be light and airy. Offering dappled lights so that the yard is not plunged into darkness. It must also be enough to offer privacy. I will be layering the trees,shrubs and perennials to create a woodland effect. One tall tree and many smaller trees (creating a triangular effect - well known in bonsai) I will have a dry river bed that snakes through the yard and I will also add siberian or japanese irises to add interest to it.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 3:24PM
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myfairychloe(5b Guelph ON)

I don't know if anyone else had this problem but we had a linden out on our front lawn...typical boulevard tree here in our new subdivision and it attracted those nasty yellow jackets last year....on every leaf and attacked me everytime I left the house...YIKES! We actually replaced it....shhhh, don't tell anyone. It started rotting on the base and my husband was allergic to the bees. Don't feel bad, it's found a nice home elsewhere.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2007 at 5:27PM
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