Last month, I wrote about ample space in the landscape, a luxury (or detriment depending on your interests) that many of us wish we had.
I had some suggestions for large trees that could work if they’re given enough room to fully mature. Oftentimes, homeowners don’t realize how big a tree can get. All you need to do is take a tour of Durango’s neighborhoods that were developed during the mid-20th century, and you will see (relatively) small city lots dwarfed by huge trees.
My dad will recount the story of his father planting a Colorado blue spruce in their backyard on Forest Avenue. The seedling, transplanted from a coffee can, was most likely planted in the 1950s and is flourishing today. But it dominates the space – it must be 60 feet tall and at least 25 feet wide. Fortunately, he was wise enough to plant it away from the house (a practice not commonly followed by homeowners), but if that thing falls, it’s going to damage a neighboring structure, I guarantee you.
Fast forward to today and homeowners have a multitude of choices when it comes to smaller, ornamental trees that can fit perfectly in these smaller urban lots.
Wasatch or bigtoothed maple (Acer grandidentatum): One of the larger trees on the list, this maple has the potential to reach 25 feet in height and 15 feet in width. The best part is that this tree, which is native to Southwest Colorado, can withstand drought conditions, so it fits well in our xeric landscapes. Fall color is impressive and is typically orange or red. Hot Wings maple (Acer tataricum): The tatarian maple, native to southeastern Europe and western Asia, is prized in Colorado because of its tolerance to our clayey, alkaline soils. Small in stature (15 feet by 15 feet), the Hot Wings maple runs the color gamut of red to orange to yellow in the fall, but what makes it distinct is the bright red samaras that appear every summer. Samaras are the seed pods, or fruit, of the maple trees and many of us have childhood recollections of letting these go and watching them helicopter to the ground. Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas): A member of the dogwood family and not the cherry family, this tree has four seasons of ornamental interest. You will see it bloom soon here in Durango, with star-shaped yellow flowers covering the tree. In summer, dark red fruits can attract birds, and then, come fall, the dark green leaves turn a reddish-purple hue. Additionally, the dark gray to reddish brown bark can exfoliate or peel. To highlight this feature, especially for winter interest, prune the lower branches. Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata): There are lots of lilacs out there, but the “Ivory Silk” cultivar of the tree lilacs is one of my favorites. It can be grown as a tree or large shrub (20 feet tall with a rounded crown) and tolerates our clayey soil very well. In spring, fragrant panicles of white flowers hang from the tree. I’ve always liked Ivory Silk because it blooms later than most other lilacs and the reddish-brown bark peels, giving it some attractiveness in the dead of winter. Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at [email protected] or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter