Summer’s Best Flowering Small Trees

Crepe myrtle is the most popular blooming small tree for our area.

Our native sweet bay magnolia is a fine multi-stem small tree with very fragrant blooms.

This weeping bloom is the result of the weak stems on this crepe myrtle because of the way it was pruned.


Lilac chaste tree is one outstanding flowering small tree but is not used as much now as in the past.

To say that crepe myrtle is the most popular summer flowering tree is an understatement. In fact it is so easy to grow, if the landscape has sun it will probably have a crepe myrtle. And for good reason; beautiful blooms and if tip pruned correctly a second bloom is common, beautiful trunk structures as they age and great fall color. And best of all it is easy to grow in most of our soil if given water to get it established. Here is the problem however. Most of the time we buy crepe myrtle by color, not by the size we want to fill the space. With the technology of a cell phone you can google the selection and find out the size. We have selections that will not grow over 6 feet tall, to the original species that are truly small trees in our area. In all cases the hack across the top is not the way to prune, but that is for another blog.

Sweet bay magnolia is one of my favorite small trees for gardens that don’t drain well or stay moist. Native to Alabama, you can see it growing in low areas across more coastal parts of the state in its native habitat. Here, however, it does fine, but it is not a fast growing tree and is so effective in a multi-stem form. I think it is more tolerant of various soil types and can take typical conditions here if watered during dry periods. That’s not a problem so far this summer. I consider this a semi-evergreen because in hard winters they loose most of their leaves.

An old fashioned tree you see in bloom now is lilac chaste tree. While the common selection is purple there are also pink and white selections.  I have not found those selections as vigorous, so I would classify them as large shrubs in our area. The common purple flowering chaste tree can get the size of a crepe myrtle, but it has a very different appearance because its blooms are spikes. Also the leaves are very fragrant. Here is another small tree that tolerates most conditions but loves good well drained fertile soil. It is a sun loving tree.

Not only are these great trees, but most nurseries are putting their trees on sale. If they are containerized it is fine to purchase sale plants and install them in your garden now.

John Floyd

John Floyd has been gardening--and learning about Birmingham area gardening--for more than 30 years. In addition to his day-to-day experience, John has degrees in horticulture from Auburn and Clemson Universities and was Editor-in-Chief of Southern Living.

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