Tree/Shrub Suggestions for Zone 4b

(Question)

In a sunny, fairly dry location (rain dependent), what kind of tree would “anchor” the corner of my lot, near my sidewalk? I don’t want anything flowering (bees/insects), given the foot traffic past this location. Also the height of the tree would ideally be about 10 feet, without extensive width to impede walking by it. In anchoring the corner of my lot, I propose to remove my picket fence and replace with shrubbery/hedging. What would work well there as well with fairly low maintenance and faster growth to reach height of 4-5 feet?

(Answer)

This is a hard one, as the tree has to be something you and your family enjoy, and many of the smaller trees are particularly attractive because of their showy flowers – which you don’t want!  In choosing  a tree, you should also consider other issues like how easy the tree is to take care of, whether it will shed leaves in the fall (could be a problem for passersby), among other things.

Consider the following:

  •  Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) may be an option; some varieties are quite small.  Note that although Japanese maples do best in zones 5 and higher, some can be grown in colder climates. Japanese Maple Lovers provides excellent advice about how to keep these trees happy in colder climes.  They also provide suggestions as to hardier varieties, including the Katsura (which is a bit of a spreader!) and Beni Komanchi. See Landscape Ontario’s Japanese Maples , which also lists several varieties, although these appear to be for zones 5 and above. That being said, your local nursery may be able to tell you if some of these varieties will do well in your climate.  For example, the Crimson Queen cutleaf maple may be of particular interest – the leaves turn scarlet in autumn and the tree grows to 2 m (6 ½ feet). The Golden full moon maple, with its yellow leaves, grows to 3 m (10 feet).
  • I love smoketrees (Cotinus coggygria), which are 10-15 feet tall – although can be quite wide. These retain interest for all seasons. See a description of the tree from the Missouri Botanical Garden . The common smoke tree (smokebush) is hardy in your zone, and  ‘Royal Purple’ smoketree is hardy to zone 4b.  The yellow flowers are tiny and insignificant, appearing in spring.
  • If you prefer an evergreen, some junipers grow around 10 feet tall, can tolerate drought and are quite low-maintenance.   The Skyrocket juniper (an Eastern red cedar cultivar (Juniperus virginiana “Skyrocket”), grows in a tall, narrow columnar fashion – may be good in the tight spot you describe. However, the tree can grow 20-30 feet tall, so would need to be pruned back.
  • What about Alberta spruce (Picea glauca)? Conica spruce is a dwarf white spruce that will grow to 10-13 feet and has light green needles. It spreads is 7-10 feet, so it may not be ideal for your spot – but it is often pruned/shaped by landscapers. (The link is to the description from the Missouri Botanical Garden)  Arneson’s blue spruce has blue-green needles and is also quite small – here’s a description from the American Conifer Society .

Another thought – The University of Minnesota Extension’s Choosing landscape evergreens  discusses how these plants can be shaped into many designs – e.g., cones or pyramids, which may be a nice look for your ‘anchor’ tree. Small juniper or pine trees might fit nicely in your yard. The site includes a few names of landscape evergreens – e.g., the Mugo pine grows to about 10 feet in height.

Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources publishes The Tree Atlas,  which describes many trees that are native to the province and where these will thrive.  I suggest that you look at the photos/descriptions of the various trees on the site.  Most are likely too tall for your needs, or have flowers, but you may find a few that are of interest – and then can check to see if related trees are available that suit your needs.

As for a hedge choice, we have a couple of postings on our website, Ask a Master Gardener, that provide detailed information:

One great way of finding a tree or hedge that might suit your property is to walk around the neighbourhood – you will probably see several specimens that interest you (and a few that you don’t like).   And check at your local nursery – they may have some ideas on trees/shrubs that will work in you yard, and can advise on plants that will thrive in zone 4b.

We would be interested in hearing which tree/hedge material you ultimately select! Please keep in touch.