Urban trees with year-round appeal

In our urban world of outdoors entertaining, compact living and smaller personal green spaces, the landscaping challenge is to find the ‘right’ tree for the situation and therefore the most suitable selection for the job. Sometimes this is just aesthetic appeal, but most of the time the tree will serve a greater function.

Will it screen neighbours, encourage fauna or flora habitat, minimise heat and/or maximise cool at the right times of the year?  To select the ‘right’ tree in any circumstance, you must start with understanding what you want that tree to do. 

If you are looking for non-native, deciduous selections that provide year-round interest and functionality, here are a few trees that maybe your ‘right’ tree.

Pistacia chinensis. Growing to 8m tall, Chinese Pistachio is a lovely small, deciduous tree with a traditional form and moderate growth rate. This ornamental variety does not produce nuts. When mature it will provide a broad canopy for summer shade, a beautiful trunk and bark in winter when limbs are bare and great colour in autumn. 

Fraxinus ‘Urbdell’ and ‘Cimmzam’. Slightly taller than Pistachio, both of these Ash varieties are excellent for bigger shade and bold autumn colour and as such, are well sought after as a large feature tree in residential and commercial landscaping. Considering differences, ‘Urbdell’ may be more pyramidal in shape, but both produce dark, glossy green foliage and furrowed bark on their trunks. In the colour stakes, ‘Cimmzam’ wins out, but not by much.

Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’. Golden Elm offers an obvious colour alternative to the dark greens of the previous two selections. Leaves are almost translucent and yellowy-lime in colour. If you are looking for colour contrast but prefer a softer tree, Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’ (Golden Honey Locust) might be the right one for you. Its finer foliage accentuates its naturally weeping habit resulting in a tree that is softer and perhaps more graceful in appearance. 

Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Red’. This very common North American deciduous tree produces a lovely rounded canopy when fully mature. This is another sought-after selection for autumn colour as well as its colour transition through the seasons.  Big leaves are green in summer for broad canopy against the sun and in winter its V-shaped form with a strong single leader makes for an excellent focal point in the landscape.

These selections have the right foliage density and form to throw shade in summer while not growing too big to maintain or overwhelm a standard house block. For ideal selections, we feel these also give back in terms of visual or sensory interest at other times of the year too. As trees ideal for urban areas, they should appear on your list for big tree, year-round, deciduous appeal.

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