While many of us think of trees as super-tall giants or stand-alone specimen plants, we also know that most trees naturally grow in forests and that forests aren’t all made up only of tall trees. There are trees that mature at different levels, and certain trees prefer growing in the dappled light of their taller neighbors. We call these understory trees, and there are many that work well in our home gardens, adding interesting forms and structures, colorful blooms, or intriguing foliage. They also can provide food and shelter for wildlife. The following trees and shrubs all take full sun to partial shade. So if you’ve got some dappled shade under a tall canopy of trees, consider one of these excellent options.
Amelanchier canadensis, Zones 4–8
There’s a good reason why the once-overlooked serviceberry has become the darling of landscape designers looking to include more native plants in their designs. This is a native tree that seems to offer the complete package: hardiness, early spring flowers, and spectacular fall foliage.
Nurseries offer many newer named selections, each offering a different benefit, such as straighter stems or trunks or larger fruit. You may notice that a garden center might offer both shrubby plants as well as single-stemmed trees in nursery containers, but you should know early on what you want, as it’s difficult to train a shrubby specimen to grow as a perfectly shaped tree, or vice versa. It seems that each serviceberry has its own personality and habit, and ultimately you just can’t convince one to grow a certain way, especially if you want a taller single-trunked tree.
That said, few natives are as useful in the northeastern garden. Hardy to Zone 4 and growing up to 30 feet tall, serviceberryRead more on finegardening.com