Shaping a Small Ornamental Tree

aloha2009September 23, 2012

We actually received HOA approval for a small deciduous patio tree but now I'm questioning myself if it would look right with the pruning we would need. The type of tree could be exchanged out (with another approval) but the size would need to still be about the same 12'h & 12'w.

We would need to keep the foliage of the tree cropped out for the first 5-6'. This is to minimize distraction from our view of our lake and in addition we don't want to feel closed in. A small tree in this area would be nice to give the area a beautiful specimen while providing some much needed shade for the patio to the East (we'll be using a LARGE umbrella in the interim until it's full grown).

I'm not sure if pruning in this manner would ultimately look too top heavy. I know there have been discussions here and there on improper shaping of a tree, but I'm not sure what the consensus would be on a tree this small.

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You might consider a serviceberry, such as Autumn Brilliance, if they do well in your area.

The Serviceberry has a branching structure that's more open and airier than a lot of other trees. Because of its growth habit, you might not need to prune it quite as much as you would other trees.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 2:16PM
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As you can guess, since I seem to be forever promoting the small tree, I have lots of thoughts about its pruning. When you say, "We would need to keep the foliage of the tree cropped out for the first 5-6'." I presume you mean limbed up so the bottom of the canopy is at that height? If so, I think 5' is definitely too low and 6' is quite low. Think about the height of a patio umbrella. If it were 5' it would be in your face and quite annoying since you'd (or at least some of us would) need to stoop in order to get under it. A tree will be larger than an umbrella and 8' or 9' is a better minimum. A canopy that is almost touching a person's head is also low enough to be an impediment to the view. It needs to be higher in order to maintain the view since you probably don't just want a view of water, but instead want a view of water with some sky in the picture.

If the ultimate desired height is 15', I would pick a species that maxes out at that height so there's never a concern with pruning the top. I know it's hard to get exactly the height you want, but if you strive for it, you'll get close enough to minimize tree maintenance over the long haul.

As far as balancing the proportion of trunk relative to canopy, I think you do not need to worry about it being "top heavy" ... or "top light". It will only look top heavy if it has a large head but the trunks look too scrawny to support it. If they are proportionately thick, they will look fine. There is a wide range of acceptable proportions and unless you go extreme, I doubt anyone would give it a second thought. I've seen plenty of trees that are limbed up to half their height and they look fine. In most cases the canopies are a greater proportion than 50%. Part of that equation depends on the tree's ultimate height.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 2:44PM
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Blossom, it's not so much about the species of tree but how a 12' high tree may looked when the bottom foliage is kept 5-6' off the ground.

Thanks for the suggestion but we have an Autumn Brilliance in our yard and it would be too large for this particular application.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 2:47PM
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Thanks Yard for explaining the proportions. When I read your reply aloud to my DH, his response was "he really knows his stuff" which is absolutely right.

I wouldn't mind limbing the tree to 6' or maybe even 7' if it wouldn't look too top heavy. Most of the time we'll be sitting on the patios which then makes 6' high enough. We shouldn't be too effected by the width is specimen only and not an area that a person would walk under anyway.

We're looking at getting a Seven Son Flower, which is very brittle but grows fast. We figured if we hate the idea of a tree there we'll know soon enough. Sounds like it's worth a try with all things considered.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 4:09PM
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yard says: A tree will be larger than an umbrella and 8' or 9' is a better minimum.

Aloha says HOA dictates the tree can be 12' maximum. Seems it would look mighty strange to limb up to 9' topped with 3' of foliage.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 4:43PM
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Rosiew, I interpret, and Yard would be able speak to this, 8-9' would be optimum BUT sometimes because of other circumstances, optimum can't be attained.

1. I'd like a tree.
2. HOA & DH dictate ultimate size
3. We want to minimize blocking the view from the deck and the patio below.

I've seen some examples here on GW of pruning gone amok. It's obvious when it's extreme, it's not as obvious to me when it's pushing the limits. That's why I wanted to check in to see if this would end up pushing the limits too much and be an eye sore instead of a specimen.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 5:45PM
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"yard says: A tree will be larger than an umbrella and 8' or 9' is a better minimum.

Rosiew, you caught me being a sloppy reader as 15' ht. is what was in my head for some reason. So I concede to your point that on a 12' ht. tree, 9' would be a bit much for limbing up. (You did catch where I said 50% of the height for a reasonable "maximum"?) The 8' - 9' clear trunk area is reasonable where HOA's are not calling the shots and where people are just making decisions about what makes sense. The 8'/9' is based on what a HUMAN (who is 6' tall) needs ... clearance above his head. People do not like things scraping on their hairdos.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 8:15PM
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Heptacodium miconioides
Common name Seven-Son Flower

A large, fountain-shaped, multi-stemmed, deciduous shrub that typically grows 15-20' at maturity with a 10' spread. May also be trained as a single-trunk tree. Features terminal clusters of fragrant, creamy-white flowers in late summer to early fall. Flowers appear in whorls within each branched cluster, with each whorl containing 7 tiny flowers (hence the common name of Seven-son flower). Flowers are followed in fall by an equally showy (if not showier) display: small, purplish-red fruits (1/2-inch-long drupes) crowned by five very showy, sepal-like rose calyces which elongate after bloom and last into late fall. Tan bark exfoliates to reveal attractive brown inner bark, which provides good winter interest. Leaves are narrow, shiny, ovate-oblong and medium-green. This plant, native to China, is rare and may no longer exist in the wild. However, it has somewhat recently become available in commerce and is increasing in popularity as an ornamental shrub, though it may be difficult to find. It is a good source of nectar for butterflies in the fall.

This description is from the Missouri Botanical Garden. Sounds like mature size is 15 to 20 ft. Just curious. Are you planning to use a multi-trunk form or single trunk tree form?

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 9:37PM
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Most everything I read it said it gets about 15' though as the Missouri Gardens says they can get larger.

I've seen a couple of these around and though mature 15' around here seems to be if you're lucky . Since it's so fast growing it's extremely brittle breaking branches. It will be in part shade with alkaline soil. Though it's hardy it will be in less then ideal conditions. If it ultimately is too big, we'll know fairly quickly with the extreme growth rate that most report. I would like multi-stemmed because of the beautiful bark it has.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2012 at 11:21PM
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