Trees, Then & Now

Article and Photo by Geri Laufer

­­­­­I’ve been thinking about trees. Trees are phenomenal organisms (I nearly wrote creatures). Their magnificent size and longevity dictate the scale of the landscape. Generations of people have discussed policy and sheltered under the spreading limbs of Meeting Trees (does “Home Tree” in James Cameron’s movie Avatar immediately come to mind for you, too?). More than any other type of vegetation, trees are the most important natural element in landscapes.

Who doesn’t love a tree? Trees bring pleasure to all of the senses: the sight of a tree in full autumn color, the feel of cool shade, the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, the taste and nutrition of fruits and nuts, or the smell of a pine tree. 200,000 flowers on one cherry tree can perfume the air in spring. Trees provide habitat for a wide variety of living creatures. As living placeholders, trees also help record history, and pretty much everyone has personal memories linked to trees. As a girl, I used to read in our neighbor’s old cherry tree in Ohio, and a generation later, my boys turned our Southern Magnolia into their Georgia hideout.

To encourage tree planting and care, Arbor Day was started by J. Sterling Morton back in 1872. The Arbor Day Foundation celebrates the planting of trees in many ways. Of course there is National Arbor Day on the last Friday in April (April 26 in 2019). Or earlier in southern climates (like ours in north metro Atlanta), since trees are best planted earlier in the spring (e.g. the third Friday in February: Feb. 15 for Georgia). Check the interactive map for Arbor Days around the country.

When deciding on a tree for the north metro home landscape, the first thing to consider is mature size, so it won’t outgrow the space intended for it. Once the size has been determined, there are two basic leaf ­­­types to choose from: evergreen or deciduous.

Peeling or exfoliating bark on Paperbark Maple Acer griseum for winter interest. Photo: Derek Ramsey/Wikimedia Commons
Plant Paperbark Maple, Acer griseum for it’s winter interest.
Photo: Derek Ramsey/Wikimedia Commons

Deciduous trees change color and lose their leaves in the fall. Some are blessed with flowers or exfoliating bark. Although common deciduous trees include large shade types like oaks or maples, there are also smaller varieties such as dogwoods, Japanese and paperbark maples, redbuds, and flowering apricots that are used as ornamentals in the landscape.

Evergreens remain green year-round, and can have either needle leaves or broad leaves. For an ideal, native, broadleaf evergreen, consider a specimen ‘Emily Bruner’ holly, or one of the dwarf southern magnolias with dense upright branching and huge (six- to eight-inch), fragrant flowers borne from May through Nov.

For an ideal narrowleaf evergreen tree, try the slow-growing, multi-trunked Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis), with lovely, evergreen, scalloped foliage, or a Dwarf Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria) to add a summer green to your landscape.

A container-grown tree can be a “Valentine’s Day gift with roots;” it is more permanent than transient flowers. February is not too late to plant a tree; just make sure it is thoroughly watered once a week through next November. Really!

What is your favorite small ornamental tree? Email me 

Geri Laufer lives in Atlanta, where she, graphic designer husband David, and English Coonhound Lily are working on designing and installing a never-finished landscape.