Summer-Flowering Trees

Kim Blocher
Adams County Master Gardener

When selecting flowering trees for the home landscape, we tend to get stuck in the Bradford pear, crabapple, and ornamental cherry mindset. If we allow ourselves to move beyond spring-flowering trees, there are some fabulous choices to add excitement to your landscape.

Trees that bloom in the heat of summer are a welcome departure from the ordinary. I would like to highlight six stand-out performers that bloom at different times between June and September.

The Washington Hawthorne (Crataegus phaenopyrum) is a beautiful, drought-tolerant tree that grows to 30 feet tall. Often used as a street tree, it has attractive red fruit that birds will eat late in winter. You may have the joy of seeing flocks of the Cedar Waxwing dining on the fruit. This native tree blooms in late May and early June with white clusters of flowers. The Hawthorne is a great looking tree all year around with attractive bark, fall foliage, and a rounded growth habit. It can be pruned into a protective hedge because of its dense, thorny branches. T

he next tree on our summer-flowering schedule is the Sweet-Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). The white, lemon-scented blooms begin in June and extend into July. Another native tree, its natural range is from Massachusetts to Florida and Texas. It is often used as a specimen or patio tree because of its tidy growth habit and attractive foliage. There is an interesting green bark on young branches, which adds to its charm. Added to all these features is a dark red cone-like fruit that is eaten by birds.

What more could you ask for in a tree? My husband and I have a summer party early in July, and our Stewartia manages to bloom in time for it every year. Each flower lasts for 1-2 days with white, fringed, cup-shaped flowers that resemble camellias.

The Stewartia Pseudocamellia, or Japanese Stewartia, is native to Japan with a height in the range of 45 feet. This pyramidal tree is an excellent specimen tree with gorgeous exfoliating bark and fall foliage. It likes some shade and needs protection from the hottest part of the day.

The Golden-rain Tree, or Varnish Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is a very tough tree that tolerates drought and air pollution. Nonetheless, it has great ornamental value with fragrant, upright, yellow flower clusters in June-July. The papery seed pods have an ornamental value in winter. Another tree with ornamental bark, it likes full sun and adapts to a wide range of soils. It flowers best in hot, dry summers and is salt tolerant.

A wonderful tree from the heath family is the Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum). This native tree is good for woodland edge or as an understory tree because it likes partial shade and lots of organic matter. It is also known as the Lily of the Valley Tree because of its white, fragrant, urn-shaped flower clusters that appear June to July. This specimen tree has rich fall foliage and gray, furrowed, bark. Under-utilized in the landscape, this is a star performer.

The last of our featured trees is the Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha). Named for Benjamin Franklin, the Alatamaha River in Georgia is where it grew before its extinction from the wild. It was originally found along the Alatamaha and brought back to Philadelphia in 1765. The last verified sighting in the wild was 1803. Franklin Tree is one of the very few trees to bloom in late summer, with white cup-shaped flowers in August and September. Fall foliage is a dependable orange-red color, and with handsome gray bark this is another tree with four-season interest.

I hope that this helps you to expand your thinking about small ornamental trees. As we lose habitat to encroaching development, it is more important than ever to have diverse species in our landscape. All of these trees can be seen at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, and the information presented in this article is adapted from their course "Small Flowering Trees".

Read other articles about trees

Read other summer related gardening articles

Read other articles by Kim Blocher