While many of us think of trees as super-tall giants or stand-alone specimen plants, we also know that most trees naturally grow in forests and that forests aren’t all made up only of tall trees. There are trees that mature at different levels, and certain trees prefer growing in the dappled light of their taller neighbors. We call these understory trees, and there are many that work well in our home gardens, adding interesting forms and structures, colorful blooms, or intriguing foliage. They also can provide food and shelter for wildlife. The following trees and shrubs all take full sun to partial shade. So if you’ve got some dappled shade under a tall canopy of trees, consider one of these excellent options.
Amelanchier canadensis, Zones 4–8
There’s a good reason why the once-overlooked serviceberry has become the darling of landscape designers looking to include more native plants in their designs. This is a native tree that seems to offer the complete package: hardiness, early spring flowers, and spectacular fall foliage.
Nurseries offer many newer named selections, each offering a different benefit, such as straighter stems or trunks or larger fruit. You may notice that a garden center might offer both shrubby plants as well as single-stemmed trees in nursery containers, but you should know early on what you want, as it’s difficult to train a shrubby specimen to grow as a perfectly shaped tree, or vice versa. It seems that each serviceberry has its own personality and habit, and ultimately you just can’t convince one to grow a certain way, especially if you want a taller single-trunked tree.
That said, few natives are as useful in the northeastern garden. Hardy to Zone 4 and growing up to 30 feet tall, serviceberry
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Sycamore tree (Acer pseudoplatanus) is an exceptionally large and fast-growing, broadleaf deciduous tree. Sycamore originates from Europe and was introduced to the UK several hundred years ago. Sycamore has long been the subject of controversy and is often considered a nuisance because it self-seeds readily and spreads rapidly – one mature tree can be the parent of many hundreds of sycamore seedlings each year. Undesirable sycamore characteristics are fast growth, large leaves and dense branches that cast deep shade, prolific production of sycamore seeds and masses of waxy autumn leaves that don’t break down quickly and can create a slimy mess that creates issues with drains, pavements and railway lines. Sycamores are also prone to aphid infestations and these insects secrete a sticky honeydew that falls onto any cars parked beneath them, attracting dirt which is hard to wash off.
Trees for shade should be planted only after thoughtful selection, for those that may be very suitable in June may be less so in August. The Linden and the Mulberry are delightful trees when they come into leaf, but in July and August the former may make everything near by dirty with dripping honeydew, and in August and September falling Mulberries stain almost everything with which they come in contact.
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Placing trees of these colors needs great care, but their colors mingled with the multitude of others in autumn are effective and of great beauty; they do not blend well with the normal greens, particularly if used in quantity. They should, therefore, be used sparingly in isolation at points where they will inevitably catch the eye.
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