A Tree for All Seasons
By Judy Sedbrook, Colorado Master GardenerSM,
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County
Evergreens are most commonly used to brighten the winter landscape, but deciduous trees
can offer multi-season interest as well. Many have fragrant spring blooms and colorful
fruit or berries in summer. Others are noted for the brilliantly colored foliage they
display each fall. Trees with an eye-catching form or attractive bark can break the
monotony of a dreary winter landscape.
Whether renovating an existing garden or designing a new one, think ahead. Does your
plan provide for year-round interest? Most gardens are planted with only spring and summer
in mind. Little thought is given to making the garden equally attractive in fall and
The well-planned garden includes a variety of plants. Of these, trees are often the
most visible during the colder months.
In making selections for the garden this year, consider trees that offer visual appeal
in more than one season. The following are a few that have adapted well to our unique
Seasonal Photos can be seen by clicking on the name of each tree:
China, this tree will do well in full sun or partial shade and is cold-hardy to -30° F.
It will tolerate a wide range of soils and has no serious disease or insect problems. This
multi-stem tree grows 15-20 feet in height. Its fragrant white blooms appear in August,
lasting for several weeks. These are replaced with pink calyxes and reddish-purple fruit
that last through the fall. Bronzed, peeling bark becomes more noticeable in winter with
Brought here from
Western China, the Paperbark Maple will grow 20-30' in height. It likes full sun but will
tolerate up to ½ day shade. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4, disease and pest resistant, and
very tolerant of our heavy clay soils. Fall foliage is gold to red. Chestnut-brown peeling
bark is especially attractive in winter.
This tree is not
a true ash but a member of the rose family. Native to Europe, Western Asia and Siberia,
this 20-40' tree is hardy to USDA Zone3b. It likes full sun and well-drained soil, and
must be kept well-watered during hot, dry weather. Clusters of showy white flowers in
spring are followed by bright orange fruit. Berries last from August to October, and may
even persist into winter, providing food for the birds. Fall foliage changes from green,
to yellow, to orange, and often to red and can be very showy. Mountain ash is susceptible
ornamental shade tree grows 40-70' in height and is native to Greece and Albania. Martha
Washington's father planted the first one in this country in 1736. Hardy to USDA Zone 3,
it can be grown in full sun to light shade. Gray bark can exfoliate to show an
orange-brown inner bark. This, and its thick buds, make this tree stand out even in
winter. Wherever a leaf has been, the facsimile of a horseshoe can be seen, right down to
the seven nail markings. The ornate flowers are white and grow in dense, erect spikes in
May. The seedpods are round and spiny, about 2" in diameter and very noticeable in
August. Foliage is a bright red-gold in fall. It has no serious insect or disease
- Russian Hawthorne (Crataegus ambigua): A native to
Russia, this tree will grow to 15-20 feet in height. It likes full sun, is hardy to USDA
Zone 4, and is resistant to cedar-apple rust. With low water needs, the Russian Hawthorne
is a good choice for the xeriscape garden. The tree is covered with white blooms in late
May or early June. These are followed by dark red berries in August. Fall foliage is
yellow, and its yellow-gold bark and twisted branches provide good winter interest.
Western Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa): A native to the
United States, this tree grows 40-60' or more and is hardy to USDA Zone 4. Also known as
the Indian Bean Tree, it can be grown in sun to partial shade and adapts well to a variety
of soils. Its leaves are very large, up to 10", and heart-shaped. Spectacular white
orchid-like flowers are borne in 7-inch clusters in May and June. The seedpods last into
winter and are brown, up to 20" long, resembling beans or cigars. Fall color is
yellow. This tree can occasionally have mildew.
tree was introduced from the Orient in 1809 by Thomas Jefferson. It is native to China,
Japan and Korea. Growing 30-40' in height, it is hardy to USDA Zone 5 and grows well in
full sun to partial shade. A good urban tree, the Golden Rain Tree tolerates drought,
alkaline soil, heat, wind and air pollution. One of the few trees to bloom in mid-summer,
it produces showy yellow flowers on 12-15" panicles in late June to July. These are
followed by chartreuse lantern-like, papery seed pods that turn a rich brown in fall and
may last through the winter. Fall foliage is yellow. The bark is attractive, with ridges
and furrows. This tree has no serious disease problems, but can be host to the Red
shouldered plant bug.
Another tree in the Horse Chestnut family may be more suitable for the smaller
landscape. The Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus
glabra), a native, is similar in seasonal appearance to the Horse Chestnut
but grows only 20 to 40 feet in height.
The Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)
grows 12 to 25 feet in height, has good fall color and spikes of fragrant yellow-red
flowers in spring. Hardy in zones 3 to 7, these trees will tolerate full sun to partial
shade and prefer moist, well-drained soil. All parts of these trees are poisonous if
- Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana ): The name
Hornbeam comes from the German for tough tree. This tree will grow to 40', likes full sun
to partial shade, and is hardy to USDA Zone 3b. It tolerates any soil, needs good moisture
and drainage until well-established but then is tolerant of moderate drought conditions.
Flowers are not impressive, but seedpods are arranged in bracts of three and resemble
papery, hanging Japanese pagodas. The fall foliage is striking, ranging from yellow to
apricot to orange-red and then plum. The trunk of this tree is sinewy and twisted,
resembling flexing muscles. The long, slender, zigzag branches form an impressive winter
silhouette. It has no serious disease or pest problems.
The ideal planting time for trees is in the early spring, as soon as the ground is
workable. This spring, why not add something to your landscape that can be enjoyed all
Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.
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