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Beautiful, glorious trees are steadfast elements of the landscape. They lend shelter to birds and other wildlife and provide shade, too. And trees are more versatile than many people assume, with a range of leaf colors and types, branch patterns, full-grown sizes, and seasonal structures. In addition, trees can serve as focal points for a yard, adding an attractive piece around which to organize flowerbeds or other garden accents. But choosing among all the varieties of trees can be confusing, which is why the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia guide to trees can help. You'll find trees organized in several ways. Start with an alphabetical list and browse using photos. Or view by common name or scientific name. If you know the mature size you're looking for, you'll be able to quickly sort through possible selections for your yard and eliminate trees that are outside your USDA Hardiness Zone. The Trees section of the Plant Encyclopedia will also alert you to lesser-known trees that you might not have considered, as well as growth type (slow- or fast-growing).
An adaptable tree sadly overlooked by gardeners, hornbeam is a slow-growing small tree with strong wood. In fall, the foliage turns shades of yellow, orange, and red; in winter, the fluted texture of the bark gives hornbeam one of its other common names: musclewood.
Hornbeam thrives in full sun or partial shade, and its small size makes it useful for growing in parking strips or other tight spaces. Native to areas of North America, it can be grown with a single trunk or a clump of smaller trunks; it develops a rounded shape.
American persimmon is a tall shade tree that's sadly underused in gardens. It features dark green foliage that often develops yellow or red tones in fall. Older trees have distinctive bark that almost looks scaly, as though it's covered in small silvery plates.
Male and female flowers appear on separate plants; the female trees produce an edible fruit if there's a male nearby for pollination. The fruits are also great for attracting birds.
American persimmon does best in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. But it tolerates drought fairly well.
A drought-tolerant tree with fragrant flowers is a challenge to come by, but Anacacho orchid tree is up for the challenge. Native to Texas and New Mexico, this plant thrives in lean, fast-draining soil and is decorated with sweetly fragrant white flowers that resemble orchids in spring. It has an open, thin growth habit in shade but will form a denser canopy that can be useful for privacy if planted in full sun. It's an excellent tree for xeric landscapes and offers great deer resistance to boot.
Apple is the most widely adapted of all temperate-zone fruit trees. A copious producer if it's planted in full sun and well-drained soil, a mature tree will supply several families with bushels of fruit. Many cultivars have chilling requirements that must be met for fruits to develop properly. Choose a cultivar that will thrive in your climate. Also, plant two or more cultivars that bloom at the same time to ensure cross-pollination and a variety of fruits, or choose a self-pollinating cultivar if you have room for just one tree.
The magnificent shade tree that has it all: tolerance for difficult soils and conditions; spectacular purple, red, orange, or gold fall color; and a stately silhouette. Shapes range from broad-domed to narrow teardrop, but most ash varieties will require a large, open space to become the crowning glory of your landscape. Ashes are good choices for dry or alkaline soils.
Dancers in the garden, aspens are popular choices for fast-growing windbreaks, screens, and mass plantings. Their oval leaves flutter in the slightest breeze. These extremely cold-hardy trees can gain almost 5 feet in height per year. Avoid problems with their invasive roots and suckering by selecting species and varieties that won't run rampant. Enjoy the best fall color with the quaking aspen. The trees have a preference for moist, well-drained soil but they adapt to almost any soil.
Bald cypress is an easy-to-grow North American native conifer that features feathery, soft, green needles and attractive peeling bark. Unlike many needled conifers, the needles turn a delightful shade of russet-red in autumn, then fall off the tree in winter revealing its delightful architectural shape. In spring, new needles emerge.
Bald cypress is wonderfully adaptable, growing well in any average or wet soil. This is one of the few trees that tolerates standing water. It grows best in full sun and moist, acidic soil, however.
Bald cypress is the official state tree of Louisiana.
Looking for a small palm that tolerates shade? Check out bamboo palm and its relatives. Most stay under 10 feet tall, so they fit perfectly in the yard. Try it as a foundation planting, at the back of the border to create a textural backdrop for your other plants, or as a unique hedge
A culinary classic, bay's glossy green foliage is a flavor favorite in soups, stews, and meat dishes. Bay only survives to 25 degrees, so it's commonly grown in containers, sounding a steady evergreen note on patios during the growing season and gracing sunny interior windows after frost. In the landscape, established trees are fuss-free and drought tolerant. Potted bay is susceptible to scale insects; hand-pick any offenders. Protect potted bay from intense sunlight in hottest zones. If you love to cook, keep dried leaves on hand; they're an essential herb for bouquet garni.
A versatile, handsome tree, the beech takes center stage in the garden come fall when leaves change to red, gold, orange, or brown. Beech trees stand proudly upright or bend and weep; jagged leaves vary from deep green to variegated rose, white, green, or bronzy-purple. For the best leaf color, plant beeches in full sun. The hardy American beech is a U.S. native with larger leaves and light gray bark.
One of the most elegant garden trees, birches make a graceful statement with open, airy branches and roughly textured trunks. They're especially dramatic when planted as an allee (in rows on either side of a path), in a grove, or near water where their impact is doubled in reflection. River birch is a U.S. native that's among the easiest to grow.
With stunning 8-foot-long silvery blue-to-green leaves, Bismarck palm stands out in any landscape. In its native Madagascar, it reaches 80 feet tall, but in most landscapes it usually grows 40-50 feet tall and 20-25 feet wide. Bismarck palm makes a stately focal point in a large, open yard.
Once it's established, this palm is quite drought-tolerant -- but be sure to keep it well-watered the first year or so after you plant it. Bismarck palm is a slow grower, making it an unusual houseplant choice if you have a large bright window, sunroom, or greenhouse.
One of the toughest trees around, black locust thrives just about anywhere you plant it. The plant doesn't mind poor soil (in fact, it improves soil by adding nitrogen), drought, air pollution, salt spray, or even light shade. It's attractive, too, with divided blue-green foliage and fragrant clusters of white or pink flowers in late spring or early summer. It's native to areas of Eastern North America.
Black locust does have some downsides, however. It's a thorny tree and can spread by seeds or suckers and a couple of insect pests feed on the leaves so it may look scraggly by the end of the season.
Make a bold statement in your yard with hesper palms. These eye-catching trees bear large, fan-shape leaves that create a wonderful umbrellalike canopy. The blue hesper palm is one of the most popular, thanks to its breathtaking silvery-blue color and large size. Hesper palms are native to Mexico and Baja California.
Snowy early-spring blossoms and a tall pyramidal shape make flowering pear the ideal lawn tree for home landscapes. It also tolerates urban conditions such as air pollution. Select smaller, narrower varieties such 'Chanticleer' and 'Valiant' for street-side tree planting. A bonus is the fall color; 'Redspire' is a good choice for deep purple-red fall foliage. The tiny fruits appeal to summer birds.
Graceful sweeping branches and a natural pyramidal shape are the hallmarks of this exceptionally fragrant evergreen. If given plenty of space, cedars will grow to traffic-stopping perfection, to be especially appreciated in the winter landscape. Needle color ranges from yellow-tipped green to the silvery tones of the blue Atlas cedar. The deodar cedar has a Christmas tree shape up to 150 feet tall. All cedars are relatively problem free, but dislike wet feet and very cold winters.
Coconut palm is the most recognizable palm in the world. This tree grows 60-100 feet tall and 20-30 feet wide with huge leaves to 15 feet long. Coconut fruits hang in clusters under and among leaf bases. Immature fruits range in color from green to yellow or red, but all eventually turn brown. This palm is extremely drought-tolerant and can withstand salty soils.
It's a versatile plant used to make copra (coconut meat), coconut oil, coir (a material often added to potting mixes), and coconut milk.
Crabapple's clustered pom-pom flowers light up the spring, but the trees attract even more attention in winter landscapes. Scarlet, gold, or orange fruit dangles from bare boughs, attracting flocks of birds. The craggy trunks and gnarled branches are also picturesque in mixed borders. Crabapple varieties flower in white, pink, or deep rose. They prefer well-drained, acidic soil but will tolerate heavier soil.
Crape myrtles are among the brightest blooming and most heat-tolerant trees available. Their array of summer blossoms is complemented by sculptural trunks and gold or red fall foliage. The contrast of reddish peeling bark and smooth trunk provides winter interest, too. Flower colors range from white to deep rose and magenta. Pick powdery mildew-resistant hybrids such as 'Natchez', 'Cherokee', and 'Wichita' for the best performance in humid summer regions. By planting crape myrtles against a warm, sunny wall, colder-climate gardeners can also enjoy this traditional Southeastern favorite.
Date palm is the source of date fruits found in grocery stores. It is a large tree with bluish-green fronds. It can either be a single-trunk or clumping palm. Date palms are quite drought- and salt-tolerant.
If you wish to grow dates, be sure to select a female tree; a single plant bears only male or female flowers, and male flowers are incapable of producing fruit.
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