Tips And Techniques

Don’t Miss These Planning Tips: Ornamental Trees

Ornamental trees - featured image - Redbud

Choosing Ornamental Trees

Your landscaping ideas may include a variety of ornamental trees. Ornamentals are selected based on the tree’s shape, flowers, and leaves (design, pigment, or color-change). A variety of these beautiful trees can add seasonal and year-round color, habitat for wildlife, and in some cases, a source of food for birds and other wild animals.

Selections vary from deciduous (a plant that loses its foliage annually), conifers (a plant that bears cones), and evergreens (a plant that retains its foliage and color year-round). These terms are not, however, mutually exclusive. For instance, the Tamarack is a conifer that looks like an evergreen in the summer as it bears needles, but in the fall, the needles turn a brilliant gold, and fall off, thus making it a deciduous tree. Holly bushes are evergreen but not coniferous as they produce flowers, not cones.

USDA Map - Northern Lower Michigan

Climate and Preferences

Additionally, size, health, and climate play a role in selecting the right ornamental tree for your landscape. Most of our clients reside in USDA Zone 5, although towards the center of the state it can dip as low as Zone 4. Some of our Traverse City area clients fall into Zone 6. For the sake of discussing, we will review a few popular varieties of flowering ornamental trees that thrive in Zone 5.

Crabapple: A showpiece of many landscapes, the flowering crabapple is a hearty tree that gives visual interest in all seasons. There are dozens of varieties as well, each with their own unique size, shape, flower, and fruit. When considering a crabapple tree for your landscape, you will not be disappointed in the year-round beauty this tree provides. Most crabapple trees do not exceed twenty feet in height, making them beautiful additions to any landscape. These are fruit-bearing, deciduous trees.

Redbud: Redbud trees are not large, only reaching a maximum height of 20 – 30 feet. As the name implies, this tree has a prolific amount of dark pink, or “red” looking flowers that last for about two weeks in the spring. A deciduous tree, the leaves are a delicate heart shape with a long stem, turning a bright yellow in the fall.

Dogwood: The flowering dogwood is a deciduous tree that blooms between two and four weeks in the spring, and its flower color can vary from white to pink and even red. Their foliage is dark green and turns into a regal plum color in the fall. In some cases, dogwoods can produce bright red berries that last through the winter – a favorite for many birds. Like the redbud, this three is not large, growing ten to thirty-three feet when mature.

There are many more flowering trees and ornamentals to choose from in Zone 5.
Hemlock branch


The location of your home and desired planting site may significantly affect landscape design and ornamental tree selection. A few considerations how/where to integrate ornamental trees in your landscape in functional ways:

Sound Barrier: Perhaps your lake-front home is in proximity to a busy road, so to combat noise pollution you might select tall, full trees, especially evergreens like arborvitae. Arborvitae, in particular, can be planted in a hedge or containers. These versatile evergreens are available in a variety of sizes and color and are easy to maintain.

Covers and Privacy Screens: Municipal services and HVAC equipment provide the convenience of modern life but can be hidden from view with compact evergreens such as holly bushes or juniper shrubs.

Function aside, the most obvious placement criteria for ornamental trees take the lead from your home’s vistas. Trees such as the flowering dogwood do well along tree lines in wooded areas or in groups of other shrubs. This most closely mimics their natural habitat, allowing them to thrive under the protection from larger, stronger trees and shrubs.

Seasonal variety like shape and color should complement your homes vistas – and draw your gaze no matter what time of year it is.
Flowering Crabapple

Other Considerations

When deciding what ornamental tree to place in your landscape, factors like size, hardiness, solar exposure, soil, and drainage must be considered.

To Fruit, or Not to Fruit – Flowering trees were designed by nature to produce fruit. Sometimes, it’s desirable to have fruit trees to harvest. Even the excess fruit that falls returns fertility and nutrients to the soil – but it also leaves a potential mess, a common reason to select flowering trees that don’t fruit.

Native vs. Invasive – The discussion of invasive species speaks first to the fact that it is not naturally found in a geographic area. It also lends itself to a discussion about how the invasive species arrived. Many self-propagating and spreading species can be considered invasive. They range from a landscape nuance to prohibited by law.

Matching Soil pH – Not only should trees and shrubs be matched to the soil chemistry, but perennials and annuals must fit your landscape’s ecosystem. A similar concern called allelopathy matches plants that tolerate each other – as some plants produce chemicals/toxins that inhibit other plants’ growth.

Mature Sizing – Planning or adding to your landscape must include a plan for the mature size of the plants-trees, both in diameter of its mature drip-line and its mature height.

Shading – An ornamental shade tree can boost landscape enjoyment. They also can reduce solar exposure of the vegetation below. This relates to the decision to use particular conifers or deciduous species – providing year-round, or seasonal shade.

Drainage and Irrigation – Proper drainage is critical to most plants. Rain runoff and irrigation systems can “over water” some species, so finding the right spot in your landscape is important.
landscape design for bay front property

Drost Landscape Design

The experts at Drost Landscape have been hard at work for over 25 years working with clients. Let us help you make the right choices or plants to maximize their enjoyment and investment. With our knowledge and expertise, we help our clients with both the aesthetics and function of landscape design.

We not only design and implement your landscape desires fully but make recommendations on which ornamental trees will be the best for you based on your type of landscape. Our greenhouse and nursery operations keep an extensive range of options available – so we can source quickly, sometimes even “out of season.”