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Small Trees That Like Shade

A teeny-tiny shady nook in need of structure all through the year is all you need. Even the most seasoned gardener would have nightmares about this situation. This kind of space, however, can be found in any terrain, whether it is directly beneath a roof or a large oak tree. 

Though, surely, it’s next to impossible to come across little trees that don’t need a lot of sunlight. It turns out that is not the case. Trees that could fit into tight spaces were a common request of mine during my many years as a landscape designer in Seattle. 

In the same way, I needed to plant little trees that could tolerate some shadow as understory vegetation when I moved into the country and found myself with more acreage than I knew what to do with. 

After much trial and error, I’ve settled on a few trees that seem to thrive in both full sun and deep shade.

Average Height but Extra Weight

The form of this tree makes it ideal for placement under an overhang, a power line, or a canopy of other plants. In these situations, you want a modest tree that can tolerate some root competition and has a somewhat wide trunk.

The salicifolia form of the Pyrus tree, known as Pendula

These days, everyone seems to want a tree with yellow or purple leaves, and it’s easy to forget that there are other choices. Trees and bushes with silvery leaves may give a touch of glimmer to any color palette. 

The weeping willow-leaved pear stands out among understory plants due to its silvery shine and delightfully cascading growth pattern. In the spring, before the leaves have even emerged, the delicate white flowers appear. 

Under a grove of white-barked Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, Zones 5-7) or as a feature under a stand of taller, dark green evergreens, this slow-growing, dome-shaped tree would be really lovely.

Titled Golden Glory

This underappreciated giant may be cultivated in two different ways: as a multi-stemmed shrub or a single-stemmed showpiece tree. 

Small, star-shaped yellow blossoms grace the bare branches of the ‘Golden Glory’ Cornelian cherry in the early spring. 

In the autumn, if there are two or more trees nearby for cross-pollination, the flowers will be followed by crimson berries, which birds will use as a vital food source during the colder months. Because of their resistance to disease, drought, and pests, cornelian cherries need very little care.

Tsuga mertensiana

As a result of the mountain hemlock, the garden now has a more natural, forest atmosphere.

Western hemlock (T. heterophylla, Zones 6-8) has my favorite short, tufty, blue-green needles of all the native trees in our yard. 

The irregular needle length and branch spacing give the tree a distinctive look. Though beautiful, this tree is not for everyone since it may grow to be 150 feet tall and 70 feet broad. 

Mountain hemlock is a great substitute because of its feathery grace and drooping branches, although it is much lower in stature. Because of its growth pattern, it is better suited to sub-canopy positions in residential gardens. 

This beautiful tree may grow to great heights in its native subalpine environment but is more often seen at modest heights elsewhere. Mountain hemlock is a great tree to use as a transitional specimen between manicured flower gardens and the wild forest beyond.

Acer palmatum ‘Red Wood’

Coral bark trees are among the most sought-after species in the world. Not everyone can grow the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku‘), which may reach a height and width of 25 feet or more in its full form (Zones 5-9). 

For the same look and feel for a fraction of the cost, you can’t beat ‘Red Wood’ Japanese maple. Its tender green leaves, which are supported by delicate scarlet stalks, emerge in the spring. 

Later in the season, the leaves change to a golden hue with pink undertones that creates a beautiful canopy. 

While its dark green interior is attractive year-round, “Red Wood” is most notable for its striking red bark, which stands out especially well in the colder months. This miniature tree is great for adding color to a location that is partly shaded by other trees, and it thrives in a container where it may be enjoyed throughout the year. 

Keep the surrounding plants low whether you put them in the ground or a container so that the vibrant bark may be appreciated.

Betula nigra Fox Valley

Without a doubt, river birches are eye-catching, but their towering 40 feet in height and 25 to 30 feet in width mean that not every garden can contain one. 

The ‘Fox Valley river birch is ideal for urban dwellers with little outside space. This dwarf variety, ‘Little King,’ shares the species’ shaggy bark, which, when peeled away, reveals irregular areas of salmon pink. 

In comparison to the bigger river birch, ‘Fox Valley’ is not only resistant to birch borer but also has too thick clay soils, humidity, and deer. Place this multi-stemmed tree against a dense evergreen background to highlight its form and peeling bark.

A Healthy Tree Is the Result of Some Work

The successful planting of a tree in a confined space, such as up against a building or in the shade of a giant tree, calls for the utilization of a few distinct planting strategies. Make sure your newly planted tree does well in its less-than-ideal site according to these guidelines.

Position it such that it will still get rain

Make sure that your new tree is planted at a sufficient distance from the home and other trees in the neighborhood so that it may continue to get natural rainfall until it has reached its full mature width. Place your plants near the drip line of bigger trees or further away from the eaves of your home.

First probe to avoid big roots

When planting beneath huge trees, you should take care not to cut through any major roots; nevertheless, tiny fibrous roots can tolerate minor trimming. 

When scouting a potential location, it is best to use a garden fork (rather than a shovel) to investigate the area around the spot where the plants are going to be planted.

Put in a pipe for watering the plants

When I am planting older trees, I frequently place a length of perforated PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tubing into the planting hole beside the tree’s root ball. 

Because of this, I am able to give the roots a thorough soaking whenever I want to simply pour water directly down the pipe. For trees with a root ball diameter of more than two feet, you should use two pipes, one on each side of the root ball. 

One pipe should be used for trees with a root ball diameter of up to two feet. In addition, you should utilize two pipes if the terrain is sandy and drains quickly. In most cases, I do not remove the tubes for at least one full year.

Take Away

At the bottom of the hole where I’m planting a mature tree, I usually place a length of perforated polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe to prevent the soil from washing out. By pouring water straight down the pipe, I can saturate the soil and reach the roots whenever I choose. 

One pipe is sufficient for trees with root balls no more than 2 feet in diameter; for larger trees, use two pipes, one on each side of the root ball. Use two pipes instead of one if the ground is very sandy and drains quickly. The tubes usually stay in for a year or more.

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