In a landscape, trees accomplish multiple tasks, from shading our homes to being a home for wildlife. They do everything from providing food to conserving water, as well as contributing to our health and community well-being.
As trees provide physical, environmental and emotional benefits, they also help mark the changing seasons around us.
By choosing trees that provide interest across multiple seasons, you can extend your enjoyment and the positive impact made by trees in the landscape. Interest can come in the form of bark, flowers, form, leaves, fall color, fruit and more.
In the winter, a tree’s form and texture stand out. Often called “the bones” of the landscape, branch structure, pattern and weight become prominent features.
Bark texture is on display as deciduous trees shed their leaves for the winter. The bark becomes a standout feature revealing exfoliating bark, colorful patterns and unique textures.
Many species retain berries that add pops of color to an otherwise monochromatic landscape.
Spring is a time of awakening. As trees begin to break buds, newly emerging leaves can be yellow, orange, or red and eventually give way to shades of green.
Trees produce flowers large and small, creating a beautiful display for people and a critical food resource for pollinators.
In some species, flowers double down on appeal by producing attractive fragrances. Conifers push new growth called candles that come in unique forms and contrasting colors.
Summer trees often blend into the landscape to create a backdrop of rich green hues. During summer months, trees add calm and comfort to many parks and yards. Planting trees with a variety of leaf textures can produce interesting scenes.
Spring flowers develop into seeds and berries that decorate trees and feed innumerable species of wildlife as they raise the next generation.
Autumn rounds out the year and in the process of preparing for dormancy, trees produce spectacular displays.
Warm hues of reds, oranges and yellows are on exhibit as chlorophyll subsides, taking with it the appearance of green and blue leaf colors.
As the months march toward winter, fruits, berries, cones and nuts finish ripening. Some turn brilliant hues of red, while others will persist on the plant long after leaves have fallen.
Trees With Multi-Season Interest
Here are a few tree options to consider if you are looking for a new tree with multi-season interest — with the exception of serviceberry, which is a hybrid of two native trees, all of these trees are native species:
• Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
• Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
• River birch (Betula nigra)
• American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)
• Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
• Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Regardless of tree characteristics, it is important to select a tree species that will thrive where you plant it.
Before choosing a tree, conduct a thorough site analysis to better understand the features that will influence tree health and vigor. Choose a tree that is well adapted to those existing site conditions.
Emily Swihart is a horticulture educator for University of Illinois Extension in Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark counties.