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Small ‘deer-resistant’ trees

While some trees are still recovering from the damage done with the hard frost a few weeks ago, others were unaffected by the sudden drop in temperature. In fact the bloom of these trees has been more full and beautiful over the past weeks than I can recall seeing in years past.

One of the first small trees to bloom in my country garden is the white cultivar of English hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata), which begins its glorious display of fragrant flowers in late April. Growing in a place where it gets absolutely no summer irrigation, the draping branches are a focal spot with spring bloom, and again in fall when the leaves turn to gold.

‘Paul’s Scarlet’ hawthorn has been in bloom for a few weeks in another dry area of my landscape near the road. Neighbors are talking. This must be the most magnificent display of rosy-red double flowers yet, and the tree is been growing in this spot for at least fifteen years. Branches are more horizontal than the white cultivar, but still have a slight draping growth habit.



Hawthornes are rarely over twenty feet in height, and may easily be trained shorter, making them a perfect tree under utility lines. Spread is about fifteen feet. They are not fussy about soil requirements, and will even tolerate some shade. The white-flowering hawthorn blooms well even when it has only a few hours of sunlight.

In my irrigated garden in full morning sun, Japanese snowdrop (Styrax japonicus) has just begun its bloom this week. I have been watching the buds develop, and now hundreds of tiny white flowers have opened along delicate horizontal branches. The tree hums with the activity of the honeybees. Each year I am distracted from spring garden chores by the exquisite beauty of this tree, and the fragrance and humming.




My fifteen-foot height Japanese snowdrop tree has been in the landscape about twenty years, growing in garden soil prepared with compost, soft rock phosphate, and oyster shell. While it has been irrigated deeply once a week, no additional fertilizer has been applied. This year I will try to attend to that part of the garden and spread some compost at the base of this treasured tree.

Allow enough room for the spread of Japanese snowdrop, a minimum of fifteen feet. If you crowd it with other plants, even lower shrubs, the effectiveness of the horizontal branching will be diminished. While these branches appear delicate, my specimen has never lost a branch from snow. This past winter, when there was more than three feet of snow, I was not at home to shake the accumulating weight off prized plants.

When does a shrub become a tree? In a Cedar Ridge landscape, I used a cutleaf or fernleaf elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Laciniata’) to eliminate the view of a shed in a small garden. It is been quite successful. In fact, it has almost obscured the access to this shed because the homeowners are not willing to prune a single flower cluster. Towering at twenty feet, it is amazing, and in bloom this week it is very beautiful.

While this final selection, the elderberry, may be browzed by the deer, it grows so quickly that damage may not be noticed. Protect it when young, then prune out the lower growth, training it as a small tree. This will keep it out of reach of the deer, and allow you to get to your shed!

Carolyn Singer has gardened in the foothills since 1977. She is the author of two books of deer-resistant plants: “Deer in My Garden, Vol. 1: Perennials & Subshrubs” and ” Vol. 2: Groundcovers & Edgers.” Gardening questions may be sent to csinger@stardustweb.net.


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