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A patio tree must mind its manners; here are 14 that mostly do.

A patio tree must mind its manners

A good patio tree is well-mannered. It doesn't constantly drop leaves or messy fruit, doesn't have roots that pry up paving or out-compete nearby plants, isn't too tall at maturity, and casts pleasant shade. The drawing above shows these and other points of arboreal etiquette.

While no tree is perfect in every way, some come close. In order to find which trees work well in patios, we asked nurserymen, tree experts, horticulturists, and landscape architects to name their favorites. We pass along some of their comments.

October is the best month to plant most ornamental trees. Cool temperature and rains are on the way--ideal conditions for a new plant. Wait until spring before planting any tree that is just barely coldhardy.

Well-mannered patio trees for most Western climates

Raywood ash (Fraxinus oxycarpa "Raywood'). This deciduous tree grows fairly fast (to 35 feet)--a plus if you're landscaping from scratch and want shade as soon as possible.

"I can't imagine a better tree for fast shade. It's seedless and resistant to ash leaf blight. The wine red fall foliage is outstanding.'--Lance Walheim, horticulturist, St. Helena, California.

Raywood ash takes summer heat, winter cold, and most soils--including alkaline --in stride. Its roots will grow deeper if the tree is given a wide planting area and occasional deep watering.

"Autumn Gold' ginkgo (G. biloba "Autumn Gold'). One of the most widely adapted deciduous trees, it's recommended for every Western climate except the desert. Ginkgos are especially beautiful in late fall when leaves turn golden.

"Ginkgo is one of the cleanest, most reliable trees in the world. It's graceful, hardy, and attractive every season, but especially in fall.'--Frank Chan, horticulturist, Davis, California.

Slow growing and a little spindly at first, ginkgos gradually reach 35 to 40 feet or taller with an equal spread. Plant in well-drained soil. Stake young trees until they are established. Be sure to plant only a grafted male tree such as "Autumn Gold'. (Female trees drop messy, foul-smelling fruit.) Grow in any well-drained soil.

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). While this deciduous shrub-tree grows in cooler climates, it's at its best where summers are hot: in Sacramento, Paso Robles, Riverside, and Phoenix, for example.

Handsome in any season, its foliage is light green and tinged bronze in spring, turning to yellow or red in fall. In summer, fluffy clusters of flowers--in shades of rose and pink to rosy orchid--bedeck the branches.

"Crape myrtle is so gorgeous in bloom that I don't mind the litter of its scattered flowers.'--Bob Cowden, nurseryman, Walnut Creek, California.

"Smooth, gray flaking outer bark and equally smooth pink inner bark combine beautifully.'--Barrie Coate, horticultural consultant, Los Gatos, California.

Widely available are "Kellogg's Purple', "Watermelon Red Improved', and one known simply as "pink.' Indian Tribe selections (dark purple "Catawba', bright red "Cherokee', and pink "Potomac' and "Seminole') are mildew resistant. Virtually mildew immune are "Muskogee' (light lavender), "Natchez' (pure white flowers and distinctive dark cinnamon bark), and hard-to-find "Tuscarora' (dark coral).

Height depends mostly on how much you prune; unpruned, some kinds grow to 30 feet. To train as a patio tree, prune so that one to four trunks begin branching 5 to 6 feet from the ground.

Plant in full sun. Feed moderately. Water infrequently but deeply. Once established, crape myrtle is drought resistant. Mildew is sometimes a problem in cool coastal areas; plant crape myrtle where it will get the most heat and good air circulation.

Purple-leaf plum (Prunus blireiana and P. cerasifera "Krauter Vesuvius'). Of the many flowering plums, these two emerged as favorites in our survey.

"Both are excellent. P. blireiana has leaves that fade to bronze-green by midsummer, becoming vivid red in fall, and it has double flowers. "Krauter Vesuvius' has leaves that stay black-purple all season, and its flowers are single.'--Ken Smith, landscape architect, Ventura, California.

P. blireiana grows to 25 feet, "Krauter Vesuvius' to about 18. Flowers are pink, appearing in early spring. Either adapts well to all Western climates. Give ample water until established.

Ornamental pear (Pyrus calleryana). This deciduous tree grows well in most of the West (except the desert), reaching 15 to 25 feet tall. Glossy green leaves are leathery; white flower clusters appear in early spring.

"The variety "Bradford' adapts widely and has deep roots. Spring flowers and fall color are excellent. Compared to evergreen pear, it's very resistant to fireblight.'--Richard Harris, professor of environmental horticulture, UC Davis.

It tolerates any soil and needs minimal summer water once established. "Aristocrat' is similar to "Bradford' but more spreading.

Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica). One of the best spreading deciduous trees for summer shade, it grows slowly to 40 feet. Clusters of yellowish white 1/2-inch-long flowers appear in summer (most reliably where summers are warm and dry), followed by long, narrow pods. "The bark of mature trees is outstanding. Cracks and fissures look something like traditional paintings of pagodas.'--Lance Walheim. "Regent' is extra vigorous, well shaped.

Trees for cooler areas

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). This deciduous tree grows to 20 feet; it's pictured on page 250. "Seedling plants of Japanese maples are reliable, adaptable, and attractive summer and winter. And they usually have good fall color.'--Bob Cowden.

Seedling Japanese maples (not named, cultivated varieties) adapt to many soils and climates but grow best where soil is light, slightly acid, and moist but well drained. They prefer filtered shade but tolerate full sun and accompanying heat. Shelter from hot, dry, or constant winds.

Purpleblow maple (A. truncatum). This relative of Japanese maple is from China. "An excellent, round-headed small tree, it grows fast--11 feet high and 15 feet wide in seven years in our test garden.'--Bob Ticknor, North Willamette Experiment Station, Aurora, Oregon.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis). This spreading deciduous tree offers pleasantly filtered shade and thrives in all except the mildest maritime climates.

"The variety "Oklahoma' is a striking tree. Wine red flowers cover stems and branches before leaves develop in spring, followed by copper-colored seed pods that last through winter. In fall, leaves change from dark green to yellow. Beyond all that, the medium gray and slightly rough bark is outstanding.'--Barrie Coate.

"Forest Pansy' is another redbud favored by several consultants.

"Heart-shaped leaves emerge brillant scarlet-purple after flowers fade. As leaves mature, they turn a deep maroon red.'-- Rodger Duer, nurseryman.

Both grow to about 25 to 35 feet; they do best in Sunset Western Garden Book zones 1 through 3 and 7 through 20. Provide good drainage, average water.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). Native to the eastern United States, this deciduous tree reaches 20 feet. It does best in zones 1 through 9, 14 through 16.

"Perfect summer umbrella for a small patio, not to mention the spring flowers and glowing red fall color.'--Lance Walheim.

In winter, it displays clusters of small scarlet fruit. Give well-drained, acid soil, lots of water, sun and wind protection.

Thornless honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis). This deciduous tree is widely grown but performs best where winters are cold and summers warm.

"The two best varieties, in my opinion, are "Shademaster' and "Imperial'.'--Frank Mackaness, horticulturist, Corbett, Oregon. "Shademaster' grows fast--24 feet high and 16 feet wide in six years. "Imperial' grows to 35 feet and casts heavier shade.

Honey locust is tolerant of most soils and wind. Give it a wide planting area (roots near trunk eventually lift). The pod gall midge often causes severe damage in central and Southern California, so planting there is not recommended. This insect is not yet as significant a problem in most of the Northwest.

Trees that prefer heat

Chinese hackberry (Celtis sinensis). One of the best trees for hot climates (though adaptable to others), it tolerates desert heat, drought, wind, and alkaline soils once established. This deep-rooted deciduous tree is similar to an elm but smaller, reaching 20 to 30 feet.

Plant in a space at least 6 by 6 feet wide. Protect young trees from wind by staking until established (two to three seasons). Leave low-growing laterals to encourage a strong, tapered trunk. Deep-water occasionally to encourage deep rooting.

Aphids are sometimes a problem. Insects can cause leaf gall in cold-winter areas (zones 1 through 3) and in California and Arizona deserts (zones 10 through 13).

Carrot wood (Cupaniopsis anacardioides). Although this evergreen tree grows in mildest parts of northern California (zones 16, 17), it thrives in all of Southern California. A slow grower to 30 feet with a 20-foot spread, it has a delicate, airy habit, with leaves divided into 4-inch-long leaflets. It provides dense shade.

It's deep rooted, tolerant of poor drainage and salty winds, and clean--a good choice near pools. It needs average water.

Pink tabebuia (T. avellanedae, sometimes sold as T. ipe). It grows best in Southern California (zones 20 through 24), where mature trees put on spectacular flower displays in March or April. It usually drops its leaves before flowers appear; new leaves emerge a month later.

"Handsome structure and bronze-colored new leaves are reasons enough to plant it-- not to mention its flowers.'--Ken Smith.

Growth is fast to about 30 feet. Provide well-drained soil. Established trees are drought tolerant, but they respond to regular watering and feeding. Your nursery may not stock pink tabebuia, but you can have it ordered.

Nursery shopping for patio trees

Because most patio trees are small and relatively slow growing, consider starting with larger sizes. For example, crape myrtle in a 24-inch box at 9 to 10 feet tall is about twice the size of a 5-gallon tree, the equivalent of four to five years' growth.

Typical prices range from $25 for a 5-gallon tree to $75 for a 15-gallon tree. A 24-inch or larger boxed tree costs $250 and up, but few nurseries stock trees larger than 15-gallon size.

Photo: Height is under about 40 feet at maturity

Photo: Pests or diseases are few or none, and never ones that can easily destroy or disfigure the tree

Photo: Canopy is tall enough to walk under, wide enough to sit under

Photo: Roots won't lift paving, form sprouts, or invade nearby planting beds

Photo: Litter? Leaves don't drop constantly. Any fruit, flowers, or seed pods that drop aren't too messy or difficult to handle

Photo: Graceful multitrunked Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is patio centerpiece. Its shade is dappled and roots are deep, allowing English ivy (Hedera helix) to thrive beneath. The only cleanup is of seeds in late spring and leaves in fall
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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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