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Trees That Give Back

April 5, 2010

You give and give to your trees. You treat them well and give them lots of attention, particularly during the growing season.

So they should give back to you, right? And they can … all year long.

Most landscape trees offer an abundance of color and beauty for short, intense flowering periods in spring and early summer and then again during the fall. But why couldn't you plant trees to capture attention all year long - even during the dead of winter … or just before the birth of spring buds when you're overeager for summer to arrive? A little interest here, a bit of color there. Some green here, some texture there.

It's called four-season landscaping

And it's not something that happens naturally - it's planned. With some preparation and help from your local arborist, you can build the backbone of an ever-changing treescape that can be enjoyed every single month of the year.

Trust me - I did it.

To do it right, you have to mix all the elements. Think about foliage, which comes in varying shades of green and can be mixed with contrasting colors of yellow, crimson or plum. That foliage then blazes in fall to shades of ruby, ginger, gold or bronze - offering a whole new color palette. This is the grand finale, if you will, before all the leaves fall gracefully to the ground, revealing persistent, scarlet fruit that attracts wildlife, not to mention patterned or textured bark that contrasts nicely with a snow-filled background. Bold and unusual plant structure also comes into play after leaf drop, providing an additional art element. And then spring kicks it all off again with intensely fragrant flowers.

Let me break it down for you by season to give you an idea of what you can do.


Not only does the newly emerging foliage from delicate bud to emerging leaves signify the birth of a new season, but the intoxicating scent and spectacle of flowers uplift the entire landscape. I have two dwarf Korean lilac trees in my backyard with the tiniest, palest lavender flowers that pack a wonderful perfume that travels on the wind from the landscape to my deck and patio. The rounded shape also makes is a nice accent in the landscape. 

summer tree interest


This is when foliage variety provides something noteworthy everyday. The wind makes the small leaves of a birch tree dance and sparkle in the sun. Mature, emerald foliage envelops the whole space, and trees with silvery, golden or purple foliage enrich the landscape. And summer flowering trees continue the aromas and color from spring, as well as attracting butterflies. As these flowers fade, foliage, texture and shapes continue to shine.

The Pagoda dogwood is a good example of this. Fragrant, flat, white flowers bloom in late spring. Then dark blue-black or deep violet berries show on red stalks around August, drawing hungry birds. Muted burgundy tones erupt on autumn leaves and then a multi-stemmed silhouette provides winter interest.

Another good example of unique summer interest comes from the 'Gold Dust' sweetgum, which has star-shaped, glossy green leaves that look as if they are speckled with gold dust. Then their fall leaf coloration has a mixture of pinks, yellows and maroons.

fall tree interest


The varying shades of tree leaves in fall provide a kaleidoscope of landscape color. The sugar maple's orange-red-yellow fall leaves appear as dancing flames in the wind. The sweet birch has triangular, hunter green leaves that turn brilliant butterscotch in fall. The stewartia's autumn leaves look as if they are painted red, orange and yellow. Ginkgo's fan-shaped leaves erupt into the palest shade of mellow yellow. The sweet gum brings another level of contrast with deep burgundy and ruby shades in fall. Then ripening fruits and berries pile on the interest and texture. Here's one of my favorite videos on why the leaves change in the fall.

winter tree interest


Sure, this time of year we rely less on color and more on structure. But evergreens shine in the landscape now - providing a much needed green to the drab, gray backdrop. And they pop amidst the stark, white snow. Think of the soft, silvery, jade needles of the concolor fir and the icy-blue, short spikes and pale brown pinecones of the blue spruce.

Winter also gives barks that flake and peel a chance to shine. The Paperbark maple has blue-green foliage that turns to a russet-red in fall, but it's best known for its cinnamon-bronze exfoliating bark that is accentuated by the light snow of the season. 

I hope I've inspired you to look at each tree you choose to add to your landscape this year - not for just its best-known qualities, but for the total package each one provides.

"Think you're a big fan of trees? We'd love to hear about it. Send your thoughts to Dave or Daphne at blog@davey.com ."

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