You really can’t beat a Japanese maple for shady locations in your yard, but if you have a spot, like I do, on the edge of mature trees, you might consider one of the small ornamental trees that do well in north Texas.
Texas Redbud Cercis canadensis var. texensis
What would spring be without redbuds? Texas actually has three native redbuds, but you want to choose the right one for our alkaline, clay soil. The eastern redbud brightens up the piney woods of East Texas. The Mexican redbud grows as a multi-trunk tree on the rocky limestone soils of West Texas. It cannot tolerate poorly drained soil.
As in “The Three Bears” children’s story, the third type, the Texas redbud, is just right–for north and central Texas. It is smaller and more drought tolerant than its eastern relative, with thick, leathery leaves with wavy margins. The Texas redbud is also commonly multi-trunked and will grow in well-drained clay.
Of course, we plant redbuds for their spectacular show of pink blooms in the early spring. This small tree grows 15 to 20 feet tall and wide.
Mexican plum Prunus mexicana
The Mexican plum plays on the same playground as the Texas Redbud. Each bloom at the same time in early spring and are about the same size. Consider planting redbuds and Mexican Plum together along your property line or as understory trees in a wooded area for breathtaking spring color. The magenta flowers of the redbud contrast beautifully with the cloud of white blossoms from the Mexican plum.
Like the Texas redbud, the Mexican plum is very drought tolerant, living on rainwater alone in all but the most extreme situations. It grows 15 to 35 feet tall by up to 20 feet wide. The one-inch wide white blooms are an important pollen source for bees. Small oval plums—which will stain a sidewalk or patio—appear in late summer and are favorites of birds and small mammals.
Eve’s Necklace Sophora affinis
This lovely small tree rewards gardeners all year round. In spring, it is covered with 4- to 6-inch long clusters of pea-like pink flowers. Green glossy leaves in summer are followed by distinctive black seed pods and yellow fall color. The pods, from which the tree gets its name, resemble a black string of beads. (Caution: the seeds are reportedly poisonous.)
Eve’s Necklace grows 15 to 25 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide and can be planted at the edge of or slightly under large shade trees like cedar elm. It is related to the Texas Mountain Laurel Sophora secundiflora, which is evergreen.
Fall’s around the corner, and that would be the perfect time to add a small ornamental tree to your landscape.
Pictures by Texas Native Trees Database
Another small ornamental tree worthy of consideration: Vitex !