It looks like spring is finally here, and many homeowners are heading back out to their gardens and lawns to get them ready for summer. While spring is a great time to renew mulch and fertilize your trees, many people are also looking to freshen up their outdoor areas by planting new decorative shrubs and trees.
Choosing the right decorative or ornamental tree for your yard can seem overwhelming; there are many different types available in our area. Some species, however, are more suited to our climate and soil, and taking a little knowledge with you on your trip to the nursery can go a long way toward planting a tree that will thrive.
With that in mind, Texas Tree Surgeons has put together a list of our Top Ten Decorative Trees for North Texas, curated by our owner and ISA Board Certified Master Arborist Amy Langbein Heath.
Let’s start with a Southern classic, the crape myrtle. Different types of crape myrtles come with various flower colors, from hot pink to lavender. Crape myrtles also have a variety of trunk colors and can range in height. Some crape myrtles are actual trees and other varieties are considered a shrub. They are a popular North Texas tree because they enjoy full sun and require moderate water and little maintenance. This tree is fast growing and due to the gorgeous blooms it produces in the summer is a great tree to plant multiples for a border. For more information on crape myrtles, see our recent post.
Purple Leaf Plum
Nothing says spring in North Texas like purple leaf plum trees in bloom. As you drive around North Texas, you can spot and identify their beautiful flowers in pink or white. Purple leaf plum makes for a beautiful ornamental tree. It has a single trunk and purple or reddish leaves all year round, so it looks great in landscaping when it’s not in bloom, too. The tree requires full or partial shade and needs an area of about 20 x 20 feet to take root and grow properly. Like the crape myrtle, it requires moderate water. It is also a great bee attractor and grows one to two feet a year.
Texas Mountain Laurel
Texas mountain laurel is another showstopper, especially when in bloom. Not much seems to bother this drought-tolerant beauty. A hard freeze might eliminate blooms one year but it won’t kill it. Texas mountain laurel requires good drainage and the trees are happy growing among rocks and limestone in other parts of Texas. This small tree looks more like a large shrub. It prefers full or partial sun and needs approximately 20 feet to grow. It is slow growing. It is green all year and in March, when it is in full bloom with gorgeous purple blossoms, it puts out a delicious scent reminiscent of grape bubblegum. It is a kid favorite, but beware the silvery pods it puts out in late summer. The pods hold a red bean that can be poisonous in large amounts.
Another purple showstopper is the Texas vitex, also known as a Texas lilac. Vitex generally appears more like a shrub or small tree with a large top. It is drought-tolerant which makes it perfect for xeriscaping, and is happy in direct sun. When in bloom, May through September, vitex showcases spiky blooms of lavender flowers. It also produces sporadically throughout the fall. Vitex needs 15 x 10 feet to grow properly. It is deciduous and loses its leaves in the winter. Vitex is also known for its ability to attract bees and butterflies.
A relative of mountain laurel, Eve’s necklace is another decorative tree favorite. Eve’s necklace is a small tree with lustrous green leaves. Come springtime you can expect a delicate canopy and pink flowers that hang in beautiful clusters. Like its cousin the mountain laurel, it produces pods in late summer into fall that resemble a string of beads, giving it its name eve’s necklace. The seeds are reportedly poisonous. Eve’s necklace can grow in direct sun or in light shade. It is easy to grow and takes low water.
When we say “redbud,” we usually mean the Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), but there are two other cultivars, Texas redbud and Mexican redbud, that are also common. All three varieties have heart-shaped leaves and pink/purple blossoms. The redbud is a relatively small tree. It has a short trunk, spreading branches and can grow to about 20 feet tall. It is often added to gardens and houses because it is one of the season’s earliest flowering trees and adds a lot of color with its burst of pinkish/purplish flowers. The redbud’s green leaves, stunning blossoms, and seed pods make it a beautiful decorative tree choice all year round. The redbud does best in full sun or light shade and the Mexican and Texas varieties are drought-tolerant.
Flowering dogwoods are a much-loved feature of gardens both in East Texas and the DFW Area. Dogwoods generally exhibit white blooms, but may also show pink or other colors. They bloom for 3-4 weeks in the springtime, and looks particularly spectacular during that time, but are a great decorative choice all year long. Fall brings crimson foliage, giving way to red berries in the winter. In their natural environment, dogwoods are understory trees, protected and surrounded by other trees. Because of this, flowering dogwoods prefer at least partial shade to thrive.
Yaupon holly is a versatile, multi-trunk shrub or small tree. Yaupon can be trimmed into a hedge or left to grow as an individual tree, making it a popular choice for residential and commercial landscaping. A hardy evergreen, yaupons produce small white flowers in the spring and the female plants produce bright red berries that stay until fall. Yaupons are drought-tolerant and can reach a height of 25 or 30 feet. The dense foliage and berries are attractive to birds throughout the year. Additionally, the yaupon is the only caffeine-containing plant that is native to North America. The leaves can be dried and used for tea!
A graceful and elegant addition to the right landscape, the Japanese Maple is a local favorite for good reason. There are numerous varieties available, with foliage in a range of colors. Japanese maples start out with green leaves in the spring, which quickly mature into shades of red and ochre. These medium-sized ornamentals love the shade and thrive under larger plants or shaded by houses. One of the common issues we see with Japanese maples is too much sun, but if you have space in the shade, they can be a welcome addition.
Looking for a low-maintenance, full sun, drought-tolerant tree? Meet the desert willow. The small tree or large shrub has a spreading crown with willow-like light green leaves. In the mid-summer, these have fragrant, pink flowers that form in clusters at the tip of the branches. This native tree can withstand the heat of our North Texas summers and its flowers are a great hummingbird and bee attractor!