Some gardeners get frustrated when trees in their yards create shade and prevent lawn grass from growing. But the right tree in the right location can be a magnificent sight. A featured tree in the yard is often called a specimen tree. That’s because it is planted to be a focal point and can grow into its full glory. Often gardeners hear “specimen tree” and think of a large maple, oak, or beech tree in the yard. But specimen trees can also be a dwarf crabapple, a flowering cherry tree, a weeping larch, or a pine. Specimen trees are good landscape design tools because large trees can fill big back or front yards, breaking up the emptiness that often results from large lawns. Smaller trees can provide an anchor for a garden bed, especially when paired with smaller shrubs or flowers.
Specimen trees provide year-round interest. Spring-flowering trees, such as flowering dogwood and plum, brighten up the yard. Summer foliage can be interesting, especially on trees such as lindens, with their silver-backed green leaves. Some trees have variegated or purple-colored foliage. In fall, maples, ash, and many other trees provide brilliant color. Even in winter, specimen trees such as birch and paperbark maples have attractive peeling bark.
When selecting a tree as a specimen, first learn about its growth habit. Not only is the maximum height and spread important, but the shape is also critical. Tall, narrow junipers may fit well in a small lot. Broader trees will need a bigger area. Small, weeping trees make great courtyard or alcove trees. Dwarf trees, such as Alberta spruce, add a big-evergreen-tree look to a small spot.
Decide if you want a tree for its flowers, fall color, fruit, bark, or all of the above. Think about any fruit that might form, and ask yourself if dropping fruit which can create a mess on a deck or patio might be an issue. Consider whether you want an evergreen or deciduous tree. This choice can influence the amount of light coming into your house and whether views become blocked.