Choosing trees for their landscape value

Published 11:56 am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The fall season has arrived and the winter season quickly approaching. This season is a great time to plant trees into the landscape. In most landscapes trees are an essential component to the aesthetic value of the property. Although shrubs and herbaceous plants are widely used in the landscape due to their ornamental qualities, trees provide qualities that other plants can’t offer. For that reason, the selection of trees that do well in a landscape setting is essential.

The Southern sugar maple is a tree that fits well into the landscape and was recognized as a Louisiana Super Plant in the fall of 2011. This tree, with the scientific name of Acer barbatum, is a deciduous native tree that grows 30 feet to 40 feet in height when mature, with a spread of 20-25 feet. This tree, which exhibits a moderate to fast growth rate, can grow in conditions with full sun to part shade, and it can persist in a wide variety of soil conditions. One of the nice landscape attributes of the Southern sugar maple is its fall color, which is reliable throughout Louisiana.

Another tree that incorporates nicely into the landscape is the evergreen sweetbay magnolia. This is a native tree to Louisiana, and the scientific name for the evergreen sweetbay magnolia is Magnolia virginiana var. australis. Unlike many of the other magnolias, this tree is evergreen, so it will maintain its foliage through the winter months, which is an attractive attribute. However, the straight species sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, is semi-deciduous to deciduous, so it oftentimes loses its foliage in the winter months, which is the primary reason the variety australis is preferred.

The evergreen sweetbay magnolia is a medium-sized tree that can grow to 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide, and it exhibits an upright growth habit. The tree can be grown as a single trunk or multitrunk specimen, and it can be grown in full sun to partial shade. The foliage of the evergreen sweetbay magnolia is spectacular as well. The upper leaf surface is a lustrous green, and the lower surface of the leaf is silver in appearance. When a breeze is present, the silver leaf underside is exposed creating a nice color contrast. In addition, the evergreen sweetbay magnolia produces creamy white flowers that appear in mid-spring and sporadically throughout the summer, and in the fall cone-like pods with bright red seeds form. The evergreen sweetbay magnolia was selected as a Louisiana Super Plant in the fall of 2012.

The willow oak, Quercus phellos, is a native tree that was chosen as a Louisiana Super Plant in the fall of 2013. This tree is an excellent shade tree for the landscape, growing up to 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide, with an upright oval growth habit. The willow oak has a relatively fast growth rate when compared to other oaks. It produces narrow, willow shaped foliage, which makes it neater than other oaks because it is not as messy when the tree defoliates. It does produce small acorns, which provide a food source for wildlife. The willow oak performs best in full sun, and it is adaptable to a wide variety of soil conditions.

This article was compiled by Scotty May, Assistant Extension Agent (ANR) for Washington Parish. For more information concerning this article or related topics, please contact the Washington Parish Extension Office at 985-839-7855.