Small Ornamental Trees


Hi there. Thanks to your response to one of my earlier questions.
I’m thinking of adding some ornamental trees to my backyard. I garden in zone 5. It has clay-ish soil and is in full sun on a gentle south-facing slope. I’ve already decided that I want a kousa dogwood, but for a tree in a different place, I haven’t decided between a serviceberry or a redbud? Which do you think would do better in the space, and compliment the kousa dogwood better?

Many thanks


What fun to be choosing between those trees, all of which I have in my garden and should look lovely in yours.

Serviceberries and redbuds are both attractive shrubs/small trees with growing conditions not dissimilar to that of the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa).  In choosing between a serviceberry and redbud here are some factors to consider.

The Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is quite unusual among spring flowering trees and shrubs in that typically its blossoms are pink (although a white form is available); at a time of year when the blossoms on most trees and shrubs are white.  It is a striking small tree, (growing up to 40′ although often half that); with blossoms appearing on its trunk and branches in early to mid spring before the attractive heart-shaped leaves unfurl.  Redbuds grow in light to part shade and in average well drained soil.  They can suffer from winter kill. Mine have made it through unscathed from the ice storms and extremely cold winters we have experienced in Toronto in recent years.  For this reason you should make sure that a tree you buy is grown from local seed sources, as those propagated from trees in the southern end of its range may run into difficulties in our winters. In terms of its usefulness (other than aesthetic considerations) in the garden, as a member of the legume family a redbud will fix nitrogen in the soil; its flowers provide nectar to butterflies and other insects; songbirds and small mammals may eat the seeds.  It is a host plant to some butterfly larvae.

The Eastern Redbud should do well in your sunny sloping back yard.

There are many different species of serviceberry that you could choose between.  They are either small trees or multi-stemmed shrubs.  A couple in tree form that are found in this part of Ontario are downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) and  smooth serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis).  Another in shrub form which is often grown around Toronto is Apple serviceberry (Amelanchier grandifloria).  As serviceberries are understory trees or shrubs they will grow in some shade but will also grow well in sunny sites.   They will tolerate dry soils and a variety of soil conditions.

Serviceberries all bloom in the spring with small, short-lived white or pinkish flowers, and the leaves are an attractive orange or red colour in the fall.   They have edible fruit which can attract songbirds and provide food for other wildlife.  The fruits of the serviceberry are also edible for humans and can be used as one would use blueberries, i.e. made into jams and jellies, ice cream or baked goods.

Your question has been posed to the Toronto Master Gardeners before.  Here is a link to a response to an inquiry about planting the Eastern Redbud or another tree in the context of a condo planting which you might find helpful.

Either an Eastern Redbud and a service berry would compliment your Cornus Dogwood.  Personally, I like service berries and appreciate their delicate blossoms and growth habits as well as their utility for wildlife.  However, the Eastern Redbud is one of my favorite trees.  It is much showier and provide a display that I think rivals that of the Cornus Dogwood.