Best trees for year-round interest

Best trees for year-round interest

Trees which give more then one season of interest are the best value for a small space

This year, 2022, is the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, 70 years since she ascended to the throne, and as a commemoration she has launched the Queen’s Green Canopy where we are all encouraged to plant a tree. Here at Hayes we are fully behind any initiative which encourages engaging with the natural world, whether it’s planting a window box or re-designing your outdoor space. You don’t need a huge amount of space to plant a tree as many can be grown in a large container, obviously it will not have as great a life span as if planted in the ground, however you will get many years’ pleasure out of a beautiful tree.

If you live in a confined space or apartment with no outside space there are many community planting schemes where you can volunteer to plant trees in a newly created public access woodland. If you are in an apartment with a balcony check the weight limit before buying a tree as it will need a large container which can be a substantial weight, especially when the compost is wet. 

Choosing your tree

This can be hardest part as you consider, firstly where the tree will be planted and secondly what you want out of a tree; if you are undecided the staff in your local garden centre can help. Where are you going to plant the tree? Is it going in the ground or are you planting it in a large container? The size of container will depend upon the size of the tree you are buying; don’t put a small, young tree, such as a Japanese Maple in a massive pot as they don’t like sitting in a lot of cold, sodden compost over winter. 

How to plant

If planting in the ground dig a hole slightly larger than the container the tree comes in and add a handful of blood, fish and bone to the hole, dig it into the soil, place the tree in the hole to the same level as it is in the pot. Backfill the hole with the soil and firm in taking care not to create any air pockets. Depending upon the type of tree it may need staking for the first few years, use a dedicated rubber tree tie, not string as this can chafe the bark in strong winds.

Planting in a container is almost the same as planting in the ground, just use a dedicated tree compost and check whether it contains fertiliser before adding the fish, blood and bone. Choose a pot in proportion to the tree, it is better to re-pot every 3 – 4 years rather than starting off with a huge container. Place a piece of broken crock over the drainage hole to prevent it clogging with silt and place the container on pot feet or a couple of bricks so that the water can get clean away.

Recommended trees

Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ (Sankaki) has stunning coral red stems and lime green leaves which turn soft yellow in autumn. As with a lot of the Japanese maples they are suitable for growing in a small garden or large container. If possible, position them out of the wind and midday sun, if this is not possible then make sure they are kept moist at all times to counteract the drying effects of the wind and sun as the delicate foliage soon goes brown and shrivels.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii is worth a mention here for its stunning white bark, especially ‘Kashmir White’. There are multi-stemmed specimens available which look absolutely gorgeous as a stand-alone focal point or grow several in a line beside a driveway. Underplanting with a single variety of tulip, allium or hosta serves to highlight the bark. Keep the stunning white colour by washing off the algae every year with a mild solution of washing-up liquid and warm water.

Cloud pruned conifers are synonymous with Japanese inspired gardens and are ideal for a contemporary minimalist garden scheme. As they are slow growing they are suitable for growing in pots. They are fairly expensive depending upon the species, but sometimes you can find Leylandii which are a little more budget friendly. They will need clipping over a couple of times a year to keep their shape.

Japanese garden

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (Corkscrew Hazel, Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) is an unusual slow growing small tree or large shrub which has long golden catkins in winter and twisted stems. The stems are fantastic for flower arranging especially at Christmas when they can be sprayed with a metallic paint and incorporated into the Christmas tree, as part of a mantlepiece or table display or just arranged in a large vase.

Ornamental crab apples have glorious blossom in spring, ranging from the deepest carmine pink to pure white, which provides a source of nectar for early flying insects. In autumn the leaves often turn red, orange and yellow and the tiny apples range in colour from the deepest blood red to sunny golden yellow. You can leave the fruits for the birds or alternatively make crab apple jelly which is delicious served on toast instead of marmalade or as an accompaniment to rich cold meats such as lamb and venison. They are suitable for a small garden or large container.

Ornamental rowans have the same attributes as the crab apple, spring blossom, autumn fruits and good leaf colour. Sorbus cashmiriana (Kashmir Rowan) has soft pink flowers and snow white fruits. ‘Eastern Promise’ has beautiful deep rose pink fruits and glorious autumn leaves as has ‘Joseph’s Rock’ but it’s fruits start creamy yellow and mellow to a deep golden amber. The berries are an important food source for birds and also make a delicious jelly to accompany meat or cheeses.

Prunus serrula

Prunus serrula is grown mainly for its stunning shiny rich mahogany coloured bark, but it also has small white flowers in spring. It eventually makes a large tree so is not suitable for a small garden or container.

Profile Image Angela Slater

Angela Slater

Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas.