Due to their visibility, we ask a lot of our front yard landscape trees. They must provide colorful spring flowers but also four-season interest. Some have become favorites because of their beautiful leaves, whether it's brilliant fall foliage or foliage that always looks sharp. When we find specimens that serve a specific function (such as casting a lot of shade), too, we're even happier. Here are some of the best ones to keep any yard on point year-round.
01 of 20
Laburnum × watereri flowers only briefly. For the rest of the year, it offers little. It's also fussy, suited only to USDA plant hardiness zones 5 to 7. Even there, it'll perform best in areas with cool, moist summers.
But don't let these objections stop you from buying one. Most gardeners will tolerate its drawbacks for the chance to grow something that, for two weeks in late spring, will turn the heads of every neighbor on the street. The racemes of golden flowers are that showy. Complement golden chain with specimens that'll pick up the slack the rest of the year.
02 of 20
Albizia julibrissin is another favorite tree for front yards that isn't perfect. The problem here is that it's invasive (especially in the warmer parts of its zone-6-to-9 range). If you fall at the colder end of this range, you may be persuaded to overlook the one fault of this 20-to-35-foot tree with aromatic, powder-puff flowers. The fern-shaped foliage is nicely dark on cultivars such as Summer Chocolate.
03 of 20
Dogwoods give you "four for the price of one." Best known for their spring blooms, they also provide fall foliage, a horizontal branching pattern for winter interest, and red berries the birds eat.
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) is indigenous to the U.S. Its blooms are often pink, but Cherokee Chief's (zones 5 to 9) are red. It becomes 20 to 25 feet tall (12 to 15 feet wide). The fall foliage ranges from reddish-bronze to purplish.
04 of 20
Weeping trees' forms inject novelty into your landscape design. Weeping cherries are favorites because they combine novel shape with splendid spring flowers.
Weeping Higan (Prunus subhirtella Pendula, zones 4 to 8) is a popular selection, exploding with pink/white flowers in April. Make sure you have room for it because it becomes 20 to 30 feet tall, with a spread 15 to 25 feet.Continue to 5 of 20 below.
05 of 20
Crabapple trees (Malus) not only offer spring flowers but can also function as pollinators for apple trees and plants that draw wild birds to the yard
There are many cultivars; Prairie Fire and Spring Snow (both suited to zones 4 to 8) will serve as examples.
Magnificent flowering trees, Prairie Fire plants have deep-pink flowers that later become dark-red crabapples. Prairie Fire has a mature height and spread of 15 to 20 feet. Spring Snow has fragrant white flowers; this cultivar is fruitless. Its mature measurements are 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide.
06 of 20
Hardy to zone 6, crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) is more popular farther south. At its northern extreme, punishing winters cut it down to size, reducing it to shrub form. But in the hot American Southeast, this drought-tolerant plant is a tree that grows everywhere.
07 of 20
Palm trees are popular foliage plants in warm climates. You're probably familiar with coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), which don't tolerate cold weather. But some types are surprisingly cold-hardy.
Date palms (Phoenix dactylifera) will survive where temperatures get down to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. It's one of the "pinnate" kinds of palm, meaning the foliage resembles a feather. The other major class is the "palmate"; the leaves on this type remind you of a human hand.
08 of 20
Holly is another of those plants with multiple desirable qualities. Its beauty comes not only from its leaves but also from its berries (which are red on many varieties). These features give it winter interest. The berries draw birds. And if you're seeking a security hedge, the prickly foliage of holly makes it a great choice.Continue to 9 of 20 below.
09 of 20
Acer palmatum atropurpureum Bloodgood is one of our favorite cultivars of Japanese maple trees. This slow-growing, medium-sized tree is just about the right height (20 feet) for a shade tree for your patio landscaping.
One of the best traits of Bloodgood is that it looks good year-round. Not just a fall-foliage tree like some maples, Bloodgood's leaves shine for three seasons. In winter, its nice branching pattern picks up the slack to afford interest.
10 of 20
Beeches are among the most colorful fall trees. North America has its version (Fagus grandifolia), and so does Europe (Fagus sylvatica). Variously called the "purple beech" or "copper beech," Fagus sylvatica var. purpurea is one of the best. A variation with weeping branches is Fagus sylvatica Pendula, and even more interesting is Fagus sylvatica Purple Fountain, which combines purple leaf color with a cascading plant form.
11 of 20
Sorbus americana is a specimen tree valued especially for three features:
- Its yellow fall foliage
- Its flat-topped clusters of white flowers
- Its clusters of orange berries
Mountain ash is a medium-sized tree (30 feet high, with a similar spread). Birds eat the berries. The plant's only drawback is that its blooms release a pungent and unfavorable odor.
12 of 20
We sometimes grow a number of trees in our front yards because it's hard to find all the qualities we want in one tree. But those with small properties don't have the room to grow more than a tree or two. A great DIY landscaping tip if you own a small front yard is to familiarize yourself with plant selections that do offer multiple desirable qualities. Some choices give you multi-season interest so that you don't need separate trees to furnish fall foliage, winter interest, etc.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is one such tree, with yellow fall color and peeling bark to admire in winter. This 70-foot-tall tree is for zones 2 to 9.Continue to 13 of 20 below.
13 of 20
Beauty need not be at odds with functionality. Acer saccharum is famous for its fall foliage (yellow/orange) and maple syrup alike. As big trees (80 feet), they also function as shade trees and noise barriers.
Keep their root systems away from septic tanks. A better choice for planting around septic systems is Japanese maple.
14 of 20
The function of Sunburst (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis Suncole) pertains to what it doesn't do: make a mess, letting you skip raking leaves. This 30-to-40-foot-tall low-maintenance selection has such small leaves that they don't make a mess when they fall. They're also pretty (especially in spring and fall). The tree's pollution tolerance allows you to grow it along the roadside.
15 of 20
Besides selecting trees with multiple desirable qualities, a way to beat the challenges posed by small front yards is growing dwarfs. Many sport flowers or foliage as appealing as that on bigger trees, just on a smaller scale.
Red Bird of Paradise (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) is a short tree, hardy only in zones 8 to 11. But if you garden in warm areas, it gives you a dwarf option (4 to 6 feet tall, 6 to 8 feet wide) with orange flowers.
16 of 20
17 of 20
Don't think you need a big yard to grow apples: There are dwarf trees that stay small enough for tiny front yards.
One is Malus pumila Honeycrisp. The name describes its fruit's quality. Honeycrisp is one of the most cold-tolerant apples (zones 4 to 7). This dwarf is 8 to 10 feet tall and wide.
As a pollinator for it, you'll need another type of Malus. The pollinator can be a crabapple; the latter will give you lovely flowers, besides donating pollen. Not just any apple or crabapple will do; Prairie Fire is one of the crabapples listed as a pollinator for Honeycrisp.
18 of 20
For interesting branching patterns, there's nothing better than Corylus avellana Contorta (zones 4 to 8). This slow grower becomes 10 feet tall. It displays catkins in spring, but it looks its best in winter after its leaves have dropped. That's when you can best appreciate its curious form.
19 of 20
Cornus alternifolia Wstackman (zones 3 to 7) offers four-season interest. Its horizontal branches are nice year-round. Its foliage is at its best in spring and fall. It also offers white flowers in spring.
Maturing to 10 to 12 feet tall by 8 to 10 feet wide, in a small yard it should be pruned down, emphasizing its natural horizontal branching pattern.
20 of 20
Don't wait till you get to the garden center to decide on which plants to grow in your yard. A myriad of factors go into smart plant selection. Before you can determine what's truly best for you to grow, come up with a design plan for your yard so you'll have a concrete idea of what you're trying to achieve. Then research the possible selections carefully, beginning with matching each tree with its optimal growing conditions. Finally, establish priorities (flowers, fall foliage, etc.) and pursue them, but remain open to the kind of mix of plant qualities that results in a well-balanced landscape.