Small trees for spring blossom

Plantsman Andy McIndoe picks some of his spring blossom favourites.

Prunus 'Pandora'
Prunus 'Pandora'. Image McIndoe
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Nothing lifts the spirits like the sight of early blossom against a spring sky.  The display may be short-lived, but the moment is one to be cherished. A well chosen blossom tree is a delight in any garden, whatever the size of the plot.  It can add essential height to a garden or planting scheme, making the picture three dimensional and bringing it to life. If you choose your tree carefully you can find trees with the added bonus of autumn colour or colourful fruits for a second season of interest. 

Spring cherry blossom

Prunus 'Accolade'
Prunus ‘Accolade’. Image: Andy McIndoe

Of course flowering cherries dominate the spring blossom scene and Prunus ‘Accolade’ is one of the most graceful. Its upward, but spreading branches are smothered with hanging clusters of delicate double pink flowers that last for two weeks or more. The leaves are small and neat, and the foliage stays in good condition throughout the year, before colouring richly in autumn.

For smaller gardens the delightful Prunus ‘Pandora’ is perhaps a better choice. It has lovely single pink flowers crowded on the upward sweeping branches. The small, neat leaves are bronze when young, colouring richly in autumn.  It is lovely planted singly or as a group of three where space permits. Like most cherries it is at its best on neutral to alkaline soil and thrives on heavy clay, as long as it is not waterlogged.

Prunus ‘Kojo no Mai’ in a pot. Image; Andy McIndoe

Those with very small gardens or courtyards need not be denied the delights of early cherry blossom.  The lovely Prunus incisa ‘Kojo no Mai’ makes a wonderful subject for a pot.  A small shrub, its zig-zag twigs and irregular shape give the effect of a mature bonsai.  Shell pink flowers smother the branches in early spring and the tiny leaves colour rich shades of orange and flame in the autumn. It is truly a plant of two seasons.

Florist’s mimosa

In milder areas the golden wattle or florist’s mimosa is a superb evergreen tree with fern-like foliage and frothy heads of marzipan scented bright yellow flowers in early spring. It is a good choice for town gardens or sheltered situations near the coast. The cultivar Acacia dealbata ‘Gaulois Astier’ is the one to look out for. It is more compact and flowers freely from an early age. If you don’t have room in the open ground, try it in a large pot against the wall of the house. Prune it lightly after flowering to encourage bushy growth and more flowers next year.

Apple blossom

Malus 'Evereste'
Malus ‘Evereste’. Image: Andy McIndoe

The flowering crab apples, varieties of malus usually bloom later than most of the cherries. They have the benefit of attractive autumn fruits as well as lovely blossom. One of the finest is Malus ‘Evereste’. A small tree with apple-blossom flowers and orange red fruits. Its growth habit is not unlike that of a fruiting apple and it can be pruned in a similar way to control shape and size. It is a good pollinator for your apple trees and the fragrant blooms are very attractive to bees.

Where space is less of a premium the spreading Malus transitoria is well-worth seeking out. Masses of honey scented, starry spring blooms are followed by tiny golden apples as the autumn leaves turn rich yellow. Although it stays short in stature it spreads widely making it an ideal tree for a slope or bank.

Whatever tree you are planting give it the best possible start. If planting in the open ground dig a nice big hole, add plenty of compost or well-rotted manure and some slow release general fertiliser.  You must stake and tie your tree securely to prevent wind rock which can damage developing roots and prevent establishment.  Do not forget to adjust the tree tie as the stem grows in girth.

Andy McIndoe

About Andy McIndoe

Andy has over 35 years experience in retail and production horticulture. A regular contributor to a number of magazines, newspapers and BBC Radio he lectures to gardening groups and societies at home and abroad and leads numerous gardening tours. As Managing Director of Hillier Nurseries he was responsible for the Company’s exhibit at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for 25 years, maintaining an unbroken record of Gold Medals. Andy’s special interests include hardy shrubs, trees, herbaceous perennials, flower bulbs and garden design and he has authored books on all of these subjects. His latest book, The Creative Shrub Garden is published by Timber Press in the UK and US. Andy blogs three times a week and is a tutor of several courses at the online MyGardenSchool.
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