Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - September 05, 2011

From: Charlottesville, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Trees
Title: A tree for fall color in VA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I need a small to medium-sized tree for enclosure/privacy screening. I'm looking for a fast-growing, deciduous tap-rooted tree for a lawn area about 30-40' away from an existing mature Linden, and about 10' away from the end of an existing perennial border on the other side. I know Hickory, Oak and Tulip Poplars are possibilities, but I'm hoping to find one with exceptional fall color. Sweetgum is magnificent, but too messy for this space (and I'm not sure whether it has a taproot). Any other ideas?

ANSWER:

I know that you are thinking that a fast growing tap-rooted tree is just the thing to fill an empty space (or hide something you don't want to see) in your garden without impacting and competing with the existing tree and perennial garden.  However, fast growing deciduous trees are usually pioneer species which means that they are generally weak wooded and short lived in order to make way for more durable species.  Also, all trees that are known to be tap rooted when young (which makes them more difficult to transplant than more fibrous rooted species) still have feeder roots that extend well beyond their drip lines when mature.

For those reasons, I would recommend you consider a smaller (12-36 ft) ornamental tree with good fall color.  You are right that Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum) can have amazing fall color, but it will get much too large and there are only so many "prickle balls" a crafty person can glue into a pine cone wreath.

Here are some trees in that size range (native to your area) for you to consider.

Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny service-berry) (here are some fall color images)

Asimina triloba (Pawpaw)

Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood)

Crataegus marshallii (Parsley hawthorn)

Cyrilla racemiflora (Swamp titi)

Nyssa sylvatica (Blackgum)

Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras)

Sorbus americana (American mountain ash) (more images)

These have been selected based on potential fall color and size only.  You will have to determine if your conditions will meet their cultural needs.  Because there is much color variation within a species, you will want to wait until the trees in the nurseries have started their autumn display to select the "best" one. Even then, your tree may color differently once it is planted in your garden.

 

From the Image Gallery


Allegheny serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis

Pawpaw
Asimina triloba

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Parsley hawthorn
Crataegus marshallii

Titi
Cyrilla racemiflora

Blackgum
Nyssa sylvatica

Sourwood
Oxydendrum arboreum

Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

American mountain ash
Sorbus americana

More Trees Questions

Evergreen plants for a windbreak
June 13, 2008 - Our church has need to plant a windbreak. We would like fast growing native plants, preferably evergreen or really early 'leafers' to protect us from our windy season beginning in mid/late February....
view the full question and answer

Leaves on 3 year old maple turning brown in Lebo, KS.
July 16, 2011 - Hello, one of our five Maple trees which is is 3 yrs. old now, we saw a week ago that the leaves started turning brown and dropping. My question is: Will the tree survive this and return healthy next ...
view the full question and answer

Gardening advice for Quebec
April 15, 2011 - I live in Aylmer Quebec 1. I bought some lily bulbs at a Christmas bazaar. When can I plant them and what do I put in the hole with the bulbs? 2. I bought a little potted cedar at COSTCO for a Ch...
view the full question and answer

Problems with Texas Ash in Cibolo TX
May 14, 2010 - I have a Texas Ash tree I planted two years ago. The tree was 10 feet high with thick foliage. This spring the leaves started falling off after I spread fertilizer on my yard. The end of the branches ...
view the full question and answer

Identification of white flowering bush with lovely scent
May 17, 2015 - Please identify the sweet smelling white flowering bush/tree blooming now,May, in western Massachusetts. The flowers are tiny 4(?) petals in small clusters. The scent is wonderful.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.