During the cold, gray days of winter, most Iowans look forward to the vibrant colors of spring. The explosion of colors in the home landscape in spring include tulips, daffodils, Siberian squill, other spring-flowering bulbs, the greening of lawns, and flowering trees. The following are excellent small, spring-flowering trees for the landscape.
Crabapples (Malus spp.) are an excellent tree for the home landscape because of their adaptability and diversity. Crabapple cultivars differ in size, shape, and flower color. White flowering crabapple cultivars include 'Adirondack,' 'Bob White,' 'David,' 'Donald Wyman,' Golden Raindrops®, Harvest Gold®, 'Professor Sprenger,' Red Jewel®, Malus sargentii, and Sugar Tyme®. ('Spring Snow' is a popular white flowering crabapple because it produces little or no fruit. Unfortunately, it often loses a large percentage of its leaves by early summer due to apple scab.) Excellent pink to red flowering cultivars include 'Adams,' 'Louisa,' 'Prairifire,' 'Profusion,' and 'Purple Prince.'
The corneliancherry dogwood (Cornus mas) commonly grow 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. The corneliancherry dogwood produces small, yellow flowers in round, three-quarter-inch-wide clusters in early spring. When selecting a planting site, choose a location with a dark-colored background, such as a building or row of pine trees, to highlight the yellow flowers. After flowering, oblong one-half- to one-inch-long, berry-like fruit develop. The fruit turn cherry red in late summer and are edible. 'Golden Glory' is a profuse blooming, upright cultivar. The corneliancherry dogwood can be grown in full sun to part shade.
The eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is native to much of the eastern United States, including central and southern Iowa. It reaches a height of 20 to 25 feet. Redbuds are cherished for their pinkish purple flowers that appear in mid-April to early May before the leaves emerge. ('Alba' and 'Royal White' have white flowers.) Mature trees possess a handsome flat-topped to rounded appearance. When purchasing a redbud, select a tree grown from a northern seed source. Redbuds grown from a northern seed source are more likely to be cold hardy in Iowa. Plants perform best in moist, well-drained soils in part sun to part shade.
Serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.) are native to Iowa and are often found in open areas in woodlands. Other common names include Juneberry, shadbush, or sarvis-tree. Serviceberries are multi-stemmed small trees that reach a height of 15 to 25 feet. Ornamental characteristics include white flowers in mid to late April and colorful fall foliage. Fall foliage varies from yellow to orange to red. Serviceberries also produce small, berry-like fruit which typically ripen in June, hence the common name Juneberry. The ripe fruit are excellent in pies and muffins. The birds also love the fruit and usually devour most of the fruit before they can be picked. Excellent cultivars/species for the home landscape include 'Autumn Brilliance' 'Princess Diana,' Standing Ovation™, and the Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis). Plants perform best in moist, well-drained soils in part sun to part shade.
Magnolias, such as saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) and Loebner magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri) are noted for their large flowers in spring. The saucer magnolia produces large, white to pink to purple flowers. The Loebner magnolia is the result of a cross between Kobus magnolia (Magnolia kobus) and star magnolia (Magnolia stellata). Excellent cultivars include 'Merrill' (white flowers), 'Leonard Messel' (white on the inside and purplish pink on the outside), and 'Ballerina' (white flowers blushed with pink). The saucer magnolia performs best in the southern half of Iowa. Loebner magnolias can be successfully grown in the southern two-thirds of the state. Magnolias typically bloom in mid- to late April in Iowa.
Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is a large multi-stemmed shrub which can be pruned to a single stemmed small tree. The spring brings creamy white flowers. The foliage turns red in the fall and the unique structure of the plant provides excellent winter interest. This plant does well in part shade and can add dimension to the mid-canopy areas of your yard.
Other spring-flowering trees include cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera), flowering cherries (Prunus spp.), and hawthorns (Crataegus spp.).
Updated from two articles that originally appeared in the May 18, 2011 and April 6, 2017 issues of Horticulture and Home Pest News.