sweet cherry tree

Songs and poems have been inspired by them, and when you live in temperate zones it is hard to imagine life without them. A tree gives form and creates the spirit of a placegenius loci. In its simplest definition, a tree is a woody plant with a stem (called a trunk), supporting branches, and capable of growing to a large height (although not necessarily).

Discover some of the many forms of trees and their place in your home garden.

How-To Grow Trees


Define it:

Burr Oak

Burr Oak

Deciduous trees are those which lose their leaves each year

Many states east of the Mississippi River were primarily hardwood forests which were made up of deciduous trees. We named our Autumn season for the phenomenon of loosing leaves at this time of year: Fall. As temperatures drop, this triggers a hormone which causes the plant to form “abscission” cells which separates the leaf from its twig.


pink crabapple

Prairie Fire Crabapple Tree

Ornamental trees are those which provide beauty in the garden on a smaller scale, usually under 25 feet. They often have attractive branching, berries , and/or flowers.

For Shade

autumn sweetgum

Liquidambar styraciflua

Shade trees are large and provide significant shade from the sun; they create cooling breezes under their branches due to the movement of air in the resulting differing temperature.


Fraser fir

Frasier fir

Evergreen refers to the fact that they seem to keep their leaves (or needles) all year long.

Trees In Your Landscape

One of the most important plants in your garden, in terms of size, cost, and impact. Long ago, I read some garden advice which is to be taken seriously: plant your trees first, placing them in the landscape should be the top priority in your garden plan. If for no other reason than that they take a long time to grow.

Another good piece of advice I followed over the years was to use smaller, younger saplings or “whips” when planting. They will grow better and faster once they are established. Besides the fact that it is much more economical to buy the smaller sizes than a very large one.

I know you will be tempted to have something that will give immediate effect, I know it seems hard to wait, but you will be more satisfied from the results of a younger plant.

A seedling may be too small a choice, since they need more nurture and protection. Still, if you are planting a large number, seedlings may be more economical even with some losses.

Definition of a Tree

One source says: “A woody plant with one main trunk and a rather distinct and elevated head.” But there are the shrubby trees that blur that definition. Some give an arbitrary height of a woody plant over 13′. Both ideas work well in our understanding of a tree. They are certainly the largest of the plants in our gardens.

We know trees are useful: shade from the sun, structure to the eye, trees maximize the beauty and worth of our landscape.


Gingko golden autumn leaves

photo by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

Trees are sometimes grown for the interest of their foliage, especially the autumn show of fall colors.

Related topic: Shrubs |
Garden Bones

A Gallery Of Beautiful Garden Trees

Useful Techniques

Bridge grafting for girdled trees