NC State Extension Publications


We depend on plants to solve our functional and aesthetic needs in various landscape situations. A popular group of plants being recommended and used in modern landscapes is intermediate and small-sized trees. The trees in this category mature to a particular size and are quite "well-behaved" in the landscape. Generally, the trees, both evergreen and deciduous, mature to a height of 35 feet or less.

When specifying any plant material, one or more particular landscape characteristic is considered. For example, leaf texture, flower color, bark patterns and canopy form are all important, but the one common denominator for this group is size. Quite often this could be the most important determining factor in plant selection.

Intermediate or small ornamental trees can be planted because of their low maintenance requirements. Most require little pruning and with many being native species to North Carolina, they are quite tolerant to a wide range of climatic conditions, soils, insects and diseases.

Selecting "foundation plants" can be troublesome for many people as overplanting and overgrown plants are common problems. These trees can be implemented into many designs and planted as close to 6-7 feet of the foundation. The design can be complemented by underplanting with a ground cover or mulching with some type organic matter.

Several trees are tolerant to various degrees of shade and can thus be planted as understory trees for both beauty and screening. Urban landscapes often demand trees to grow in a restricted rootzone area or planter. Most are recommended for these areas as the root systems are more tolerant than full-sized shade trees.

The multi-trunk trees are becoming a familiar landscape characteristic. This added dimension to design is very helpful in creating a focal point.

Intermediate or small-sized trees recommended for North Carolina

Listed below are several intermediate or small-sized trees recommended for North Carolina.

Scientific name Common name
Acer palmatum Japanese Maple
Albizia julibrissin Mimosa
Betula Nigra River Birch
Cercis canadensis Eastern Redbud
Cornus florida Dogwood
Cotinus coggygria Smoke Tree
Crataegus spp. Hawthorne
Diospyros kaki Ornamental Persimmon
Eriobotrya japonica Loquat
Ilex opaca American Holly
Koelreuteria paniculata Goldenrain Trees
Laburnum anagyroides Golden Chain Tree
Lagerstroemia indica Crapemyrtle
Magnolia soulangeana Saucer Magnolia
Magnolia stellata Star Magnolia
Malus spp. Crabapple
Oxydendrum arboreum Sourwood
Pistachia chinensis Chinese Pistachio
Prunus cerasifera 'Atropurpurea' Purple Leaf Plum
Prunus serrulata Japanese Cherry
Pyrus calleryana Callery Pear
Sorbus aucuparia Mountain Ash

An acceptable horticultural practice for some overgrown evergreen shrubs is pruning to create a "tree-form." Generally, this is accomplished by selectively pruning lower branches to expose the main trunk(s), thus creating an evergreen tree 15-25 feet in height. These shrubs are commonly pruned into tree-form.

Scientific name Common name
Ilex cornuda Burfordi Burford Holly
Ligustrum lucidum Ligustrum
Camellia japonica Camilla
Camellia sasanqua Sasanqua
Myrica cerifera Waxmyrtle

Be certain the particular tree is climatically adaptable to your area in North Carolina


Spec (Commercial Landscaping)
Horticultural Science

Publication date: Sept. 30, 1993

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