Small, attractive tree, that is not messy and will survive in sandy soil.

(Question)

I would like recommendations for a small tree (maximum height 12′) that does not provide dense shade, would not be harmful to the grass, and that will thrive in sandy soil. The location would be shaded early morning and late afternoon. I would prefer a flowering tree with attractive leaves that does not drop debris such as fruits or seeds that damage the lawn or are difficult to clean up; my husband and his chainsaw gang removed a beautiful flowering crabapple because the fruits were difficult to remove and killed the grass. We are located in south Etobicoke on what must have once been a sandbar on the shores of Lake Ontario (beneath the topsoil, the sand is 40′ deep). I did see a beautiful flowering elderberry (covered with white blossoms with a heavenly perfume in June) in a mature garden (clay soil) and was assured that it did not make a mess as the birds ate all the berries. It seemed to be a beautifully symmetrical tree with a mushroom-like shape. However I can find elderberry bushes only on the internet.

(Answer)

Sandy soil drains quickly, and as a result, plants aren’t given enough time to absorb nutrients. Organic matter is essential to retaining water and nutrients for plants. It improves soil texture by settling between the large particles and plugging the spaces in sandy soil. A one-time application of organic matter won’t ensure fertile ground for succeeding years.For gardens and plots with sandy soil, you need to add humus yearly, several months ahead of the planting season—in a series of applications. This will allow the soil to stabilize and be colonized by beneficial microorganisms. sthe following link provides information on how to organically improve your soil: Improving your Soil Orgaincally : A Toronto Master Gardener’s Guide.

Here are a list of small understory trees that will grow in sandy soil:

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is normally a multi-stemmed shrub that produces  profuse clusters of pinkish-white flowers in Spring that cover the branches before the leaves are fully open. In Summer, bunches of small edible, dark blue berries hang among dark green leaves, which turn brilliant bronze-red in the fall. Serviceberry requires little pruning, but if pruning is necessary, remember to “prune after bloom”.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.)  a large shrub that blooms in late fall or late winter, depending on the species, with unique yellow, gold, orange or red flowers. Foliage is not as showy during the summer months, but as fall approaches, the dark green leaves turn yellow with hints of purple and red. Native witch hazels grow in shade but tolerate some sun. Although they can be grown in all kinds of soil, they prefer moist, well-drained conditions. Little pruning is required except to tidy their shape; errant branches should be cut off during flowering.

Golden Shadow Pogoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is an open multi-stemmed deciduous shrub  which features almost oriental horizontally-tiered branches. The Golden Shadow Pagoda Dogwood has clusters of fragrant creamy white flowers held atop the branches in late spring. It has attractive yellow-variegated light green foliage which emerges scarlet in spring. The Golden Shadow Pagoda Dogwood will grow to be about 12 feet tall at maturity. This shrub performs well in both full sun and full shade. It requires an evenly moist well-drained soil for optimal growth.

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherlands Gold is a  deciduous shrub or small tree, with pinnate leaves and umbels or panicles of small creamy-white flowers followed by red, white or black berries. ‘Sutherland Gold’ is a medium-sized deciduous shrub with attractively dissected, bright golden-yellow, pinnate leaves. Small conical heads of creamy-white flowers followed by glossy red berries.Grow in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil.For best foliage effects, prune it hard in Spring to within a few buds of the base.

Good Luck and have fun picking out the new addition to your garden.