Spring Flowering Trees with Edible Fruit

Edible crabapples are larger and great for canning. (Image by JMiall)

Sometimes in our home yards and gardens, we plant primarily for ornamental purposes, but perhaps we overlook the fact that attractive plants can also provide food. The following flowering trees have both attributes. All are easily grown in western Oregon and Washington and garden-worthy, even without their food value.


Western serviceberry has delicious summer berries.

Amelanchier alnifolia is not exactly a household name, nor is it a name many gardeners find familiar, but call it western serviceberry or just saskatoon, and many would recognize it. Western serviceberry is a popular Oregon native plant that is often used in gardens, especially those with a slant toward native plants. It is a superb selection for a garden as it has clusters of white flowers in the spring that are attractive to bees and butterflies and then produces berries in the summer that can be eaten fresh or used to make pies, jams, or jellies. In the autumn, the leaves will often turn bright red for some nice fall color.

Western serviceberry is said to have the best-tasting fruit of the genus, but others say the hybrid Amelanchier x grandiflora also has delicious fruit. The hybrid is also easier to find at nurseries. Try the cultivar Autumn Brilliance®, which boasts spectacular red fall color.

Serviceberry might be considered a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree, as plants can reach about 15 ft in height. Often found growing naturally along stream banks, it seems to grow equally well in open wooded areas and will probably perform best in a partially shaded home garden setting. Before planting, amend soils with Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss or Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Plants will need supplemental water for the first couple of years to become established and then can usually survive without additional water.


Hardy olive trees look great in the landscape and bear edible olives.

When we think of olive trees (Olea europaea), we probably think of olive groves in Spain, Greece, or the numerous olive groves in California. Olives are native to the Mediterranean region, but they have adapted well in California. Recently there has been an increased interest in olives as a garden plant for northwest gardens. ‘Arbequina‘ is a widely available compact olive tree, reaching just 8 to 10 feet, has that is reported to be remarkably cold hardy, surviving winters to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9.

Olive foliage is gray-green and stands out against homes or other garden greenery. Cold hardiness is the deciding factor on whether olives will become widely planted in home gardens. Currently, at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, OR, there is an olive cold hardiness trial being conducted.

Edible Crabapples

‘Chestnut’ is one of several edible crabapples to grow.

Another group ornamental trees that provide spring color and fall fruit are true edible crabapples. Malus ‘Chestnut’ is just such a tree. This crabapple will reach about 15 ft in height and needs a full sun location. White flowers cover the tree in spring, and in fall, it produces large, red-blushed fruits. The sweet, nutty fruits are excellent for canning or jelly. They can even be eaten fresh.

Another edible flowering crabapple is the diseases-resistant heirloom ‘Hopa’, which reaches 25 feet. In spring, it bears clusters of fragrant, rose-pink flowers, and edible red fruit is produced in quantity in the fall, followed by yellow fall foliage. Its large, tart crabapples are best used for jam and jelly.

Cornelian Cherry

The cherry-like fruits of Cornelian cherry are good for jam making.

There are many dogwoods to chose from, but one of my favorites is Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), a small tree reaching 15-25 feet. This dogwood blooms very early, even before the tree has leaves. The clusters of yellow blossoms appear on bare twigs in late winter, which are quite pleasant to see on a dreary winter day. In the fall, cherry-like red fruits appear, which can be used to make preserves, if you can get them picked before the birds get them! The fall color is usually yellow, and with the red fruit, it makes for an eye-catching display. The bare branches have gray and tan blotches for winter interest.

Peaches and Plums

‘Shiro’ plum is beautiful in spring, and its fruits are tasty.

Some more standard fruiting trees are also bestowed with beauty as well as delicious fruit. The peach Red Baron (12-18 feet) has spectacular double-red blossoms in spring followed by delicious golden peaches that ripen mid to late season. And, the exceptionally hardy ‘Shiro‘ (18-20 feet) golden plum produces clouds of white flowers in spring, loads of small clingstone golden plums in summer, and develops beautiful fall foliage of red, orange and gold.

This is just a sampling of some of the many trees and shrubs that can provide a multi-purpose plant in our gardens. Talk with other gardeners in your neighborhood, and you may be surprised at the choices you have.

These flowering and fruiting trees also have wildlife value.

Beautiful Buckeye Trees for Yard and Garden

The flowers of Aesculus x carnea may be pink or red, depending on the variety.

Probably known to many, the state tree of Ohio is the Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra, 20-50 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7), a large tree native across eastern North America. Another common name is horse chestnut, a name that refers to its round, inedible, husked nuts with a mahogany sheen. In general, Aesculus trees are striking flowering specimens that come in a wide range of sizes and forms. In the Portland, Oregon area, mature specimen trees are most often seen in an arboretum or park setting. I also see them in older gardens with large lots suitable for big trees.

Species are variable, so it is important for homeowners to know about them before choosing a garden variety for the yard. Some are relatively small, while others are large and would overwhelm many garden spaces. When these trees come into flower, they put on a show that is spectacular. The flowers are largely bee-pollinated, but hummingbirds, moths, and even butterflies will also visit them. Exceptions are noted.

Five Beautiful Buckeyes

California buckeye is noted for its drought tolerance and large candles of summer flowers.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica, Zones 7-8) is a spring-or-summer-blooming California native favored for low-water gardens. The multi-stemmed tree only grows to 20 by 20 feet and has many large, palm-shaped leaves with multiple leaflets. The glory of this tree is its large spikes of cream-colored, fragrant flowers. They rise from the branches like candles from a candelabra. One important note is that the flowers feed native moths and bees, but non-native honeybees are another story. Apparently, the flowers produce a toxin that negatively impacts the growth and development of honeybees, so refrain from growing it, if you live near beehives.

A tough nature is a good reason to grow this buckeye. It is native to the Sierra Nevada foothills where it grows along dry slopes. In the wild, it naturally drops its leaves in mid- to late-summer to ward off severe late-summer drought. In a garden setting, the leaves will remain until fall with moderate irrigation.  The California Buckeye creates an attractive winter silhouette with its silvery trunk and stark branches.

Common horse chestnut is a popular European landscape tree that has escaped in some northern areas of the US.

Common horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum, Zones 4-7) and is native to Europe. It is a very large, single-trunked tree that can reach 60 by 40 feet and bears large, ivory flower spikes in late spring that are pollinated by bees. Be aware that not only is its billowing crown massive, but the roots can also be very dense and tend to break up paved surfaces, so don’t plant it near a sidewalk, driveway, or in a typical city lot. The cultivar ‘Baumannii’ has large white flower panicles and does not set seed. This non-invasive variety is the preferred choice for US gardens.

Ohio buckeye has variable spring flowers that feed bees.

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra, Zones 4-8) is a mid-sized (50-60 feet), single-trunked tree that is widespread across eastern North American.  Its spiked clusters of spring flowers may be in shades of pale green, yellow, or ivory with touches of red or pink. Hummingbirds and a wide range of bees pollinate the flowers. The green, palmately compound leaves turn shades of yellow or red in the fall. A variety for reliably red fall color is Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye. It is also disease-resistant and produces little fruit, which reduces fall mess.

The hummingbird-pollinated scarlet buckeye is the smallest (and arguably) prettiest of all.

The southeastern native scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia, Zones 4-8) is a spectacular, small (12-15 feet), multi-stemmed tree with loose spikes of tubular scarlet flowers adapted for hummingbird pollination. The huge flower spikes look impressive for three weeks or more in spring. Through summer, the tree’s large, green, palmately compound leaves are textural and pretty. When summers are dry, the foliage may drop as early as the first week of September. The stark branches and gray bark of the tree look pleasing through winter.

‘Briottii’ is electrified by bright, showy pink spikes of early summer flowers.

The red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’, Zones 5-8) is a cross between the European common horse chestnut and the American scarlet buckeye. It is a real show-stopper in full bloom with large, beefy flower spikes of deep pink or red. These appear in early summer and can reach up to 10 inches long. It is a relatively compact tree that should not reach more than 30 or 40 feet at maturity, so homeowners with modest-sized yards can consider growing it. An open lawn will show off its features best. Grow it now only for the flowers and the large leaves but for the winter bark as well.

If there is an arboretum or a large park near you, check out their list of trees to see if Aesculus specimens are listed. That way, you may be fortunate enough to see a couple in full bloom before potentially choosing one for your own yard.

[Click here to learn everything that you need to know about how to plant a new tree.]

Early Glow™ Ohio buckeye has reliably red fall color, unlike some other species that lack fall color.



Magnificent Magnolias for Majestic Spring Flowers

Saucer magnolia is one of the most popular magnolias grown and blooms beautifully in early- to mid-spring,

I will always remember the early spring day in the 1960s when I exited the freeway into a wooded neighborhood and first saw saucer magnolia saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana, 20-25 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, a cross between M. denudata x M. liliiflora) in full bloom. It was a spectacular introduction to the genus Magnolia.

Since that day, my interest in magnolias has not diminished and actually continues to grow each spring. In my own garden, I have several and would have more if it were not for space limitations. I regularly visit our local arboretum, the Hoyt Arboretum of Portland, Oregon, in the spring to see the Magnolia collection. There are also several area private gardens with extensive plantings of Magnolias, and I am a regular visitor.

About Magnolias

Saucer magnolias are large, long-lived trees that develop elegant branching with age.

Generally, magnolias are not small trees. Most of them will reach at least 25 feet and many have broad branches. Roger Gossler, of Gossler Farms Nursery in Springfield, Oregon, has an extensive display garden of magnolias, and he told me that he has consistently asked the hybridizers to please breed magnolias that are smaller because many of today’s customers are looking for trees in the 10-15-foot range. (The classic varieties in the Girls magnolia group, bred at the National Arboretum, have many smaller trees with fantastic blooms, but several are no longer on the market, and there is always a need for great new varieties for smaller gardens.)

Magnolia ‘Ann’ is a National Arboretum intro in the Girls series that reaches 10-12 feet tall.

For choosing the best Magnolias for your particular area, check varieties that local garden centers are offering. I also think that one of the best tests for specific varieties is to see what other gardeners are growing where you live. Be sure that they are reliably hardy where you live and not susceptible to early cold snaps in your area, which are known to sometimes freeze the spring buds and flowers.

Most Magnolia’s will grow in a full sun location but many also benefit from some protection from the hot afternoon sun. They like organic-rich and well-drained soil. The addition of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend would be ideal at planting time, and a yearly top-dressing is also beneficial. Magnolia roots tend to be fleshy so transplant them carefully while being sure to lightly tease apart any dense, pot-bound roots.

My Favorite Magnolias

Star magnolias are some of the first flowering trees to bloom with their starry pink or white flowers that appear before the leaves.

There are so many different varieties of Magnolias, and I am only able to list a very small number of them here. As I mentioned earlier, check to see what your neighbors are growing or local garden centers are carrying. It’s a great way to ensure that the trees you plant will grow well in your garden.

Yulan magnolias are fragrant and goblet-shaped.

One of the earliest blooming magnolias, which I have in my garden, is star magnolia (Magnolia stellata, 15-20 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8). This is one of the smaller growing types, my plant is probably 20 years old and perhaps 10 feet tall. The fragrant white flowers are small, 3 inches across, and appear on the stems before the leaves. The plant is a profuse bloomer and is covered with flowers in late winter.

Another that I have in my garden is Yulan magnolia (M. denudata, 30-40 feet, Zones 6-9), which has fragrant, ivory, goblet-shaped flowers that are 4-6 inches across and open before the leaves appear. Often a few flowers will appear during the summer. A bonus with this tree is that in late summer, red cone-like fruits appear and from a distance look as though the tree is in bloom.

‘Elizabeth’ has unique, pale yellow flowers.

Yellow is a rather elusive color in magnolias and ‘Elizabeth’ (15-30 feet, Zones 5-9) has set the standard since it was introduced and patented by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977. It has light yellow, fragrant flowers that are 6-7 inches across and often appear before the leaves. Another yellow is M. ‘Butterflies’ which is similar but has smaller, (3-4 inch) flowers.

I would be remiss without mentioning the one that, when in bloom, attracts the most attention in my garden. Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ (15-20 feet, Zones 5-9) has one of the darkest blooms of all the hybrids. As the name indicates, tulip-shaped flowers that are very dark purple-red appear on stems before the leaves. This makes a spectacular display.

Here I am offering just the tip of the iceberg of available Magnolia selections. I have only mentioned some of those that bloom in early spring, but there are plenty of other varieties that bloom in summer, such as southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) and Virginia magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), so don’t stop with spring!

‘Black Tulip’ is a unique hybrid with very dark, tulip-shaped flowers.

My Favorite Summer Flowering Trees

With the proliferation of spring-flowering shrubs and trees, sometimes the trees that flower in the summer can be overlooked.  This is too bad because there is quite a selection of summer flowering trees from which to choose.  Many people visiting our garden are often surprised to see the trees that are in bloom in July and August.  So, as people visit our summer gardens, we make sure to educate them about our favorite summer-blooming trees.

Crepe Myrtle

Standard-sized crepe myrtles develop fine, vase-shaped habits.

One of my favorite summer blooming trees is crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica).  Perhaps thirty years ago I planted one of these small, multi-stemmed trees in my garden and at that time it was not a well-known tree in the area.  It has since thrived and is now about 20 feet tall.  It blooms in August and continues flowering into September with flowers that are pale lavender.

Truly, it is the terminal clusters of small, curly edged, brightly colored flowers of white, pink, red, or lavender that really make these trees shine. But, crepe myrtles have many other desirable attributes.  The leaves are often tinged with red when they open in the spring and then turn dark green as they mature.  The bark is another outstanding feature. As the trees mature, the smooth grey or tawny bark begins to exfoliate, revealing a lower layer of copper-colored bark.  The bicolored effect is especially attractive in winter. Plus, many crepe myrtle trees have beautiful fall leaf color of red, orange, and/or yellow.

There is one common problem that these trees may have. That is powdery mildew. While the tree in my garden sometimes gets powdery mildew, many of the new hybrids are powdery mildew resistant. Trees planted in open areas with a lot of airflow and sunlight are also let apt to get the disease. Trees also perform best in very well-drained soil. The addition of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend will increase fertility and drainage.

The bark of ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtle looks beautiful any time of year.

For many years, the U.S. National Arboretum has conducted a breeding program and introduced many crepe myrtle trees and dwarf shrubs that have been selected for winter hardiness and mildew resistance.  Many of the mildew-resistant introductions have Native American names, such as ‘Zuni’ (bright purple flowers and orange-red to maroon fall leaves), ‘Tonto’ (semi-dwarf, fuchsia-red flowers, and orange-red fall leaves), ‘Hopi’ (semi-dwarf, pink flowers, extra attractive bark, and brilliant fall leaves in fiery shades), and ‘Natchez’ (white flowers, extra attractive bark, and orange-red fall leaves), and are exceptional performers in the garden. These new cultivars come in many sizes and have a wide selection of flower colors to choose from including white, red, pink, and various shades of lavender.

More recently some crepe myrtle plants have been developed for their intense black-purple foliage.  Examples are Black Diamond® and Sunset Magic. Check with your local garden center to see if any of these beautiful selections are available.

Seven Son Flower

Seven son tree has fragrant, white flower clusters in summer.

The Chinese seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), is an easy-to-grow, summer-flowering tree that we do not often see, probably because it is not well known.  The common name, seven son flower, is named for how the flower clusters are arranged. Smaller whorls of seven small flowers comprise the larger flower clusters. The flowers appear over a long period in the summer, from July to August, and are ivory and fragrant. They are followed by masses of attractive small fruits that appear inside rose-purple calyxes. From a distance, these calyxes look as though the tree is flowering.

There is one seven son flower in my garden that receives minimal care and still performs well. This tree can reach 15 to 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide and be trained as a single or multi-trunked specimen. The leaves are glossy green and the bark exfoliates, which is an added feature.

Harlequin Glorybower

The colorful fruits of harlequin glory bower are almost as pretty as its flowers.

When the harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum) blooms in my garden the fragrance of the flowers is almost intoxicating.  Flowers appear in late July and August in white clusters.  This tree also has the common name of peanut butter tree because when the leaves are crushed they have a peanut butter scent.   This tree has fruits with scarlet edges that develop metallic-looking turquoise centers that will often last until after the leaves fall in autumn.  It is quite a sight to see these colorful fruits on bare branches.  This tree does sucker, so beware and remove suckers as soon as they appear.

Golden Rain Tree

The papery pods of golden rain tree are unusual and attractive in their own right.

If you have more space in your landscape, the midsummer-flowering golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) is a great choice. When mature, the trees reach a stately 30 to 40 feet–not too big and not too small. Airy clusters of golden flowers cover the tree when in bloom and are followed by interesting, drooping papery pods that are attractive in their own right. The tree’s compound leaves add textural interest and turn shades of gold, orange, and red in fall. Look for the variety ‘September’, which flowers later, from August to September.

This list offers just four examples of attractive summer-flowering trees.  For more selections, visit a local arboretum.  Many local garden centers will also have other suggestions for sale and are an excellent local source of information.  Don’t think that flowering trees are only for spring.  Extend your bloom season into summer and sometimes even into fall.

The white summer flowers of harlequin glory bower are in attractive clusters.