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

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Thursday - August 21, 2014

From: Hingham, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Plant Lists, Shrubs, Trees
Title: Deep Rooted Large Shrub or Small Tree for Driveway Strip
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I am in eastern Massachusetts. My condominium Grounds Committee is searching for a small tree suitable to plant in narrow (4'-5') beds which divide two driveways. Can you suggest something whose roots will not compromise the asphalt driveway? We are presently removing 30-year old trees (pear, oak, sweetgum, locust, ash) in many driveway strips and need replacements so as not to eliminate our beautiful streetscapes.

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants for your narrow driveway bed is our Native Plant Database.  Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.
Under Combination Search, select the following categories: MA, Habit – tree, Duration – Perennial, Light Requirement – Sun, Soil Moisture – Moist, and Size – 6-36 feet. Once you have this list of trees, then it is time to further refine your criteria and look at their shape, form, cleanliness, and root systems. You may find that the straight species of these native plants is not suitable because of the narrow bed width, but an upright or narrow, columnar cultivar of the native plant will fit the site.

Some of the trees to consider from this search are:

Alnus incana (gray alder) – small tree or tall shrub to 20 ft tall. (Try to select plants that have a single trunk instead of multiple trunks).  Deciduous. The flower is a reddish catkin and the fruit is a small cone.
Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny serviceberry) – small tree or tall shrub to 20 ft tall. Deciduous. White flowers in the spring followed by reddish/purple edible berries in the summer. Orange/red fall foliage. Easy to grow. Sensitive to drought. The straight species is too wide for your site. But the cultivar ‘Cumulus’ is usually grown  from a single stem and has a somewhat columnar growth habit and may fit your site.
Ilex verticillata (common winterberry) – medium shrub to 10 ft tall. Deciduous. Inconspicuous greenish flowers are followed by brilliant red clusters of berries in the fall and winter. Dioecious and must have both male and female plants to produce good fruit.
Ptelea trifoliata (wafer ash) – large shrub or small tree top 15 ft. Deciduous. Small greenish white flowers in April and waferlike fruit in summer. This plant is probably too broad for your narrow
Sorbus americana (American mountain ash) – small tree to 20 ft. Deciduous. Small greenish white flowers in clusters are later replaced with coral red berries. Golden orange fall foliage color. Short lived in some areas. Seeds of this plant are reported to be poisonous (especially for young children).

Lastly, there is a book called Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines for Urban and Rural America: A Planting Design Manual For Environmental Designers by Gary L. Hightshoe that is a great reference for information like finding out what types of root systems native plants have.  It's over 800 pages and very useful if you can find a copy.

 

From the Image Gallery


Gray alder
Alnus incana

Allegheny serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis

Allegheny serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Common winterberry
Ilex verticillata

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

Wafer ash
Ptelea trifoliata

American mountain ash
Sorbus americana

American mountain ash
Sorbus americana

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