Trees with Skinny Genes
I have advised many customers to try something unique in their landscapes when dealing with a lack of space. When in the tightest locations you can and should still add trees in your landscape. Consider planting columnar or fastigiate trees in containers and narrow spaces.
By Steffie Littlefield
[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener September 2017 issue.]
I have advised many customers to try something unique in their landscapes when dealing with a lack of space. When in the tightest locations you can and should still add trees in your landscape. Consider planting columnar or fastigiate trees in containers and narrow spaces. This is when I get the blank stare or “columnar what”! So I’m here to make this special shape more common in our landscapes.
You may hear the terms narrow, columnar, or fastigiate when people talk about skinny trees. The columnar trees are ones with a single trunk and shorter uniform branches, while those with multiple trunks or branches that grow upright and close together are more correctly called fastigiate. Whatever you call them their unique growth habit makes them great for screening narrow areas, using in containers on patios and decks, and growing in confined planting spaces. Their neat shape adds a nice structural element to any landscape whether as a single specimen or planted in a row.
Some of my favorite columnar trees are also useful in the landscape for other reasons. The columnar apple trees are prolific producers of full size delicious apples and they are much easier to care for as far as pruning. Urban Apples® grow straight up, creating an elegant tree for small landscapes and patios. Tangy Green™ is a bright green apple, and fruits in the first year planted. Tasty Red™ has bright red apples, and fruits in the first year planted. Mature size for both is 8 to 10 feet tall by 2 feet wide. A choice of two varieties is required for cross pollination. These both are covered with white blossoms in spring.
For strictly ornamental uses there is a wide variety of choices in narrow trees. ‘Rosalie’ columnar crabapple is an ornamental crabapple tree that yields medium red, relatively large fruit compared to other crabapple varieties. A moderate grower reaching up to 9 feet tall and 1 foot wide. This produces a really beautiful show in the spring of delicate, plentiful reddish-purple blooms. Another interesting plant is the ‘Black Tower’ elderberry. This small tree is covered in two-toned pink flowers in early summer followed by purple berries in the fall. New foliage is celery green maturing to a dark purple-black. This is a tall upright variety quickly reaching 6 to 8 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Great for narrow spaces!
Another really unusual small tree is Magic Fountain™ weeping persimmon. This interesting little tree features a distinct upright columnar and weeping growth habit, with a vigorous and rapid growth rate, and relatively large leaves. Spring flowers then produce fruit that becomes light orange and has great garden performance for fall. Grows 25 to 30 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide.
There are many taller growing trees with distinctive upright habits that are very useful for screening in narrow spaces, creating upward structural elements for design and even afternoon shade when oriented the correct direction as a row in the landscape. The columnar red maple and Temple’s upright sugar maple, both produce deciduous foliage in a columnar shape. The columnar red maple canopy spreads only 10 feet wide, but its height reaches 50 feet. Temple’s upright is an erect tree with a canopy that spans 6 to 15 feet across while growing up to 65 feet tall. Both trees produce vibrant fall color and are useful for privacy screens. Other larger growing trees that are
very hardy here and have different attributes are Armstrong Freeman maple – 40’+H x 15’W, Marmo Freeman maple – 50’H x 30’W, Greencolumn black maple – 40’H x 25’W, upright European hornbeam – 40’H x 20’W, upright European beech – 40’H x 10’W, Princeton Sentry ginkgo – 60’H x 20’W, Regal Prince English oak – 60’H x 20’W, and particulary good for a wet spot, bald cypress ‘Swanee Brave’ – 50’H x 20’W.
So if you are looking for something unique and have that difficult tight space, try columnar, or fastigiate, trees that have narrow, single trunks. Their natural shape makes them useful in areas with little available space for planting, as well as in areas near a house or balcony where spreading trees are impractical. Planted in rows, these erect, uniform trees can also bring a classic, tidy look to street sides, garden paths and long driveways.
Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer and part-owner of Edg-Clif Farms & Vineyard. She has degrees from St. Louis Community College Meramec and Southeast Missouri State, and is a member of Gateway Professional Horticultural Association and past president of the Horticulture Co-op of Metropolitan St. Louis.